BETTER LUCK TOMORROW is a dark, foreboding tale about four over-achieving Asian teenagers gone awry. What’s different about the movie is that the subjects are Asian, affluent and living in Orange County in Southern California.
Ben, the narrator and central character of the story (Parry Shen), is gifted intellectually, ambitious, and certainly headed toward an Ivy League education. He is doing everything required for a top tier college application: daily memorizing an SAT vocabulary word, daily basketball practice, organizing community events, and the Academic Decathlon. It is this latest exercise in personal application that introduces him to Virgil, Han and Daric. These three other Asian teenagers much like himself will become his partners in a series of petty crimes that quickly devolve into actions much more severe and dangerous.
The charm of the script is in its deftly drawn and engaging characters. Ben is a blank slate, a boy unsure regarding who he is but quite sure what’s expected. His three partners are: Virgil, the dangerously unstable spark plug; Daric, the aspiring Big Man on Campus; and, Han, the brooding and laconic observer. Each of these characters is well acted by Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Roger Fan, and Sung Kang, respectively.
As the four draw closer in their drinking and competition during the decathlon, they devise ways to outsmart the system. They’re each so bored with the ease of their success and movement towards a future charted out before they were born, that the idea of the dark side excites them.
The filmmaker, Justin Lin, claims that he was able to draw together a talented team because of the reality of the story. Lin implies that this is the truth of today’s youth: lost in a sea of post modernist mud in which right or wrong are just words and the only thing that really matters is material success. The boys rush from selling cheat sheets, to stealing computer chips from the school and selling them on the black market, to intimidation, and ultimately murder.
This genre of film has almost become the standard for emerging filmmakers to “make a statement” that will catapult their careers. From Tarentino with RESERVOIR DOGS and Scorsese with MEAN STREETS, it is supposed to be edgy to create a world in which young lives are destroyed by lack of meaning and purpose. Lin, however, wrings a story that is both interesting in its contradictions (good Asian student criminals) and involving in its predictable twists. Lin has evidently studied the best of the helmers that came before him. He employs a variety of techniques from camera work to flash frames to give the piece its kinetic energy. However, the very low budget reveals itself from time to time in awkward angles and cuts that would have been left for a re-shoot in a large budget production.
This is not a movie that will make you feel good to be an American or inspire you to higher heights. The premise of the movie may have truth in it: today’s youth may have been led down a primrose path to nowhere, but the pic offers no solution. Only that bad language, drug and alcohol use, and a shocking lack of parental presence are standard fare on high school campuses today, so get used to it. It’s for these reasons that we don’t recommend this movie for discerning viewers.
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(HH, LLL, V, SS, A, DD, MM) Humanist nihilistic worldview; 118 obscenities and 8 profanities; two scenes of men beating up man and one scene of suffocating a man to death; one scene of fornication as the protagonist loses his virginity with a prostitute; alcohol, smoking and drug use; and, criminal activities.