"An incredibly powerful and absorbing film, Better Luck Tomorrow is worthy of the best film makers in the business today. That it was made by a UCLA film student is all the more astounding. The film follows the lives of Ben and Virgil, two overachieving high school students whose lives are initially consumed entirely by the question of how to make themselves even more appealing on a college application. As a measure of rebellion and a way to assert themselves outside of the limited confines of a college application, they form a "mafia" ring of sorts with two friends. They start out by providing cheat sheets for money. They progress to stealing school property, and ultimately, begin dealing drugs. In the end, the central theme of the movie is one of control over one's own life, and how quickly that control can be lost even when it appears that the exact opposite is true. The action is fast-paced, the dialogue is crisp and sharp, and the characters are all memorable and textured. Virgil is perhaps the most memorable character from a film in years. This movie is intelligent and stylish movie making at its finest."
Driven to Tears
MICHAEL ACUNA | Southern California United States | 04/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Justin Lin?s ?Better Luck Tomorrow? crackles with as much fury and bravado as Martin Scorsese did in his similar themed ?Mean Streets.? Even though reviews of this film would have you believe that ?BLT? is primarily about the Asian high school experience?it is not. What it is about is the disaffected, prone to violence and crime youth culture: a theme that has been with us for many years probably beginning in the 50?s with ?Rebel Without a Cause? or ?The Wild Ones,? when teenagers were discovered by film makers who looked at the Baby Boomer culture and saw dollar signs.
Though his film is populated by an almost 100% Asian cast, Lin has decided not to play the ?Asian Card.? One of the ways he accomplishes this is to not have the obligatory scene in which his characters sit down to dinner with their parents who scold and serve up bowls of rice with their advice and warnings. In fact, there are no parents or teachers in this film at all.
Lin?s characters are Universal and therefore represent a whole generation of teenagers no matter what ethnicity. Ben (Parry Shen) is the main character and he is conflicted about life: on the one hand he is hell bent on getting into a good school and playing basketball yet on the other hand, he dabbles in the illegal to make extra money. His friends: Virgil (Jason J. Tobin), Han (Sun Kang) and Deric (Roger Fan) form his posse and they are likewise conflicted. One of the many pleasures of this film is that that Shen and his buddies really care and protect each other which sets this film apart from other youth culture movies and it is refreshing.
?Better Luck Tomorrow? is raw, volatile, disruptive, thought provoking yet tender and loving. It is a testament to Lin and his cast and personally I can?t wait for Lin?s next film, for he is an unmistakably talented new director."
Growing up in America
Miguel B. Llora | Bay Point, California USA | 12/24/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow is a story about testing boundaries. Better Luck Tomorrow reminds me more of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment than anything else. The narrative of the story centers on a core group of four teens that, seeking to make money, find some rather creative techniques to this effect. The eventual rise in prominence leads them to a lifestyle of partying to have something to do with their time in the center of a tedious, and boring suburban existence. Ben (the overachiever) as well as his cohort aspires to a future in higher education while, conversely, seeking security in a life of crime. Until they meet Steve, this core group's routine was somewhat predictable. Not to give anything away in the story the whole narrative takes a very different turn from there.Juxtaposing this movie alongside the more benign The Debut is a bit ironic, I think. While The Debut is really about Asian-Americans (in this particular case the Filipino-American community) Better Luck Tomorrow is not about a particular community but speaks to a universal theme of growing up in America. To call it an Asian American movie is, I think a bit of a misnomer. It succeeds as a dark, sassy film, but it fails when it tries to be unconventional. That this breakout movie by Justin Lin is Asian American because of its director and its characters I will grant it. The theme though it is not uniquely Asian - taking for granted that such can be describes as a state. Anyway, this does not take away from the sensitivity with which Lin treats the characters and the angst that they experience - for that this movie, I feel, deserves it accolades. The sad truth is that it is not a movie of what can happen but what is happening. In this case I would have to defer to the viewer to make heads or tails of the excess of the movie.Miguel Llora"
Tomorrow Never Comes
Mark Twain | 06/07/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Better Luck Tomorrow may be overrated, but it is definitely a fascinating character study, a lot more emotionally satisfying than most recent teen flicks. It has stirred up a flurry of criticism by portraying Asian-American teens who cheat, steal, drink, fight and otherwise behave as badly as all the other disaffected kids in movieland. Of course, critics who suggest that movies must only portray minorities in angelic form are altogether misguided. Films are about life, and life in this country is just as likely to alienate and confuse Asian-American teens as anyone else. Director (and co-writer) Justin Lin understands that; ultimately, ethnicity is beside the point in his story. His affecting portrait of mixed-up teens headed down a dangerous road indulges in some excessive dramatics, but still rings true to the experience of youngsters growing up without moral anchors. His key character is Ben (Parry Shen), a high school senior with all the right tools for success - brains, affluence, Ivy League ambition and killer study skills. He also has a malleable conscience that allows him to sell cheat sheets to fellow students, and to help his buddies Virgil (Jason J. Tobin) and Han (Sung Kang) run credit card scams. None of the characters' parents ever appear; they trust their hyper-achieving kids based on their academic records. So does everyone else, a fact that leads the youngsters to believe their grades free them from the normal rules of behavior. Lin does not ignore the fact that his characters are regarded differently from their Caucasian peers; when Ben joins the basketball team after compulsively practicing free throws, he is disgusted when a fellow student writes an article casting him as the team's token Asian. The author of that article, Daric (Roger Fan), is another straight-A student who becomes a friend to Ben and leader of the new pack that makes its name by beating up a thick-headed jock who taunts them with racial insults. From that point on, they are on a downward spiral into drug dealing and dangerous behavior, stoked by money and youthful hormones. Ben's growing obsession with pretty cheerleader named Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung) - and the illusion of power that criminal enterprise gives him - puts him on a collision course with Stephanie's boyfriend, the richer and more sophisticated Steve (John Cho). Things turn out badly, of course. The teenagers in his tale have known tragedy and guilt beyond their years, with effects that will not be easily erased. Better Luck Tomorrow uses Asian-American characters, but at heart it is a story about all the lost children drifting into emptiness on a tide of material wealth and moral bankruptcy. An intense, frustrating, and worthwhile journey."
A Great Movie that Takes Real Risks
Michael Crane | Orland Park, IL USA | 01/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Better Luck Tomorrow" is a clever and disturbing film that is disguised as something upbeat and bright, only to hide dark and troubled layers within. It's for sure a film that takes you by surprise by giving you something you'd never expect from the looks of it. This is probably one of the film's strongest strengths.Ben Manibag appears to be your average overachiever; a bright kid that gets good marks in school and has a steady job. He appears to be every parents' dream. However, Ben and his friends are living double lives as they play dirty outside of school. Always committing some sort of petty crime, it is only a matter of time that Ben and his friends become greedy and start taking more risks and performing dangerous crimes. The appearances of being "bright and perfect students" gives them the freedom to do almost anything they wish without being examined under a microscope, and with your typical "model student" stereotypes to keep their darker sides hidden. Of course, everything that has a beginning has an end. It's just a question of when the downward spiral begins and how deep they fall into the rabbit hole with no option of turning back.For a low-budget movie, it does not look nor feel like one. In fact, it feels and looks like a film made by professionals. The directing and editing styles are slightly reminiscent of "Requiem for a Dream," but still add an original and fresh element to the film. The story presented to us is thought-provoking, disturbing, scary and authentic. Very much like Ben and his friends, the movie is disguised as something normal with a darker side that is not clear right from the word "go," but ever so increases little by little as the film progresses. You do not know what will come next, and you have no idea how things are going to turn out in the end. A great thing about the movie is that it takes the risk of not being ordinary and brings honesty to the story and the characters. You could easily see things that are portrayed in this movie happen next door to you. The events that take place do not occur in ghettos or poor neighborhoods; nor do they involve gang-bangers and hoodlums. Everything takes place in suburbia and involves your "everyday kids," which makes it all the more effective and horrifyingly insightful. The cast does a terrific job and the writing is true to itself.The DVD doesn't have much to offer, which is a shame. The movie looks and sounds great. Again, it is very hard to tell that this was a low-budget project, as it has the markings of true professionals. The bright and upbeat cinematography is excellent at concealing hidden truths and darkness. Lacking in special features, the only extra on the DVD is commentary."Better Luck Tomorrow" is really a film that stands out. While I don't think it's a masterpiece, I certainly think it's better than a lot of the drivel that's out today. If you're looking for a unique and different picture that is both scary and thought-provoking, then this might be the ticket for you. It's a great film with real strengths that ventures away from the ordinary and clichéd."