"If X2 is sold out, so what, you should see this movie first anyway."
"Our straight A's were our alibis," says Ben (Parry Shen) of his circle of friends early in the film Better Luck Tomorrow, an important new film by Justin Lin. He owns a streak of Employee of the Month awards at his fast food job, volunteers at the hospital and spends lunch with the various clubs he participates in. The group he is talking about, Virgil (Jason Tobin), Han (Sung Kang) and Daric (Roger Fan) have track records much like his, constantly padding their college applications in hopes of being accepted at Ivy League schools.Eventually the group becomes dissatisfied with the image of the well-behaved, over-achieving Asian-American students, and turn to various criminal activities for an escape. The quick money and power of cheating, stealing and drug dealing they experience renders them blind to the consequences of such activities. The ironic part is that these kids do not live in any project or ghetto, they reside in the picture-perfect gated communities of Southern California.
Director Justin Lin aims to topple these stereotypes by presenting their exact opposites, and he could not have better succeeded. Lin and cinematographer Patrice Cochet give the film a visual style that pulses much like its crime movie influences. Better Luck Tomorrow is also very funny. The quick editing style goes hand in hand with the humor in a scene where Ben and Virgil try out for the Academic Decathalon Team, the practices for which they use as a front for partying.
Better Luck Tomorrow does follow some teen movie conventions, like Ben's attraction to Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung). But their relationship is regulated only to friendship; Stephanie dates a guy from the rival prep school. The humor and romance in the story do not deter from the seriousness of the groups' deviance. These elements simply show that, despite their crimes, these characters are only teens, unable to cope with the inevitable ramifications for their decisions.
Larry Clark covered this kind of material in two shocking and powerful films, Kids and Bully. The teenagers in those movies wander aimlessly through life, rejecting education and authority, living for violence and promiscuity. Teens that society shuns, yet they lack the spirit to overcome the difficulties of their environments. The characters of Better Luck Tomorrow are embraced and expected to be the future leaders of our country. This is a social commentary that does not manipulate, it leaves the decision of whom to blame for what happens on- screen to the audience.Better Luck Tomorrow is horrifying, thought provoking and an expertly made film.