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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.04%
Average: 15.04%
Pretty Bad: 18.58%
Total Crap: 4.42%

6 reviews, 77 user ratings

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Better Luck Tomorrow
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brian McKay

"Better Luck next time"
2 stars

BETTER LUCK TOMORROW made a few bleeps on the critical radar last year, recieving general praise and touted as an edgy, gritty look into the lives of four Asian-American high school kids who get caught up in a world of drugs and crime. So, after missing two critic's screenings and the film's theatrical release, I finally checked out the DVD. The "MTV Films" logo preceeding the opening credits was my first clue, however, that this would be yet another foray into the realm of "mediocre at best"

Although this is an independent film that was picked up by MTV after the fact, it almost appears to have been made to spec. Apparently, director Justin Lin has grown up as a member of the MTV generation, and the resulting product suffers because of it. Despite a decent cast of mostly unknown kids and some surprisingly high production values for a film reputedly made for under a quarter-mil, the film is permeated with overly-slick music video quality and gimmicky camera work, trying way too hard to earn Indie street cred where none is to be found. There's nothing really unique about it that sets it apart from the average Boyz n' the Hood or Varsity Blues knockoff, except that the entire principal cast is Asian-American. But as I tried to follow this bland collection of cliches and implausibilities, the only thing I could think was, "Okay, so they're Asian. And? ...

Better Luck Tomorrow introduces us to four characters, all of them rich Asian OC kids. Ben Manibag (Parry Shen)is the brainy overachiever who is hell-bent on getting into a good college and dreams about playing pro ball even though he's only about 5'2". His friend Virgil Hu (Jason Tobin) is the annoying but occasionally funny "Stiffler" guy of the group, who talks about getting laid all the time but never quite manages to pull it off even when the services of a professional are involved. Daric Loo (Roger Fan) is another overachiever who runs the school newspaper and is head of the debate club while running an exams cheat sheet scam (and any other scam he can pull) on the side. Rounding out the group is Virgil's cousin, Han (Sung Kang), the tough-looking quiet guy who dresses like Chow-Yun Fat, is the exact opposite of Virgil and is into a few scams of his own.

The film chronicles (rather urealistically, I might add) the descent of these four students from pulling straight A's and running petty scams, to living like gangstas (they throw wild parties complete with bitchez, floss, and ice, AIIIIGHHHT?) and selling coke - all the while maintaining their GPA and squeaky-clean academic images.

As Virgil says to Ben in one scene, "Nigga, please."

Of course, this convoluted script also drops in the requisite love interest for hero/narrator Ben, as he is smitten with the too-beautiful Asian cheerleader Stephanie Vandergosh (Karin Anna Cheung)- and it took me a minute to realize that "With a name like Vandergosh, She's got to be adopted" (My apologies to the Smuckers(tm) corporation, makers of fine jams). Naturally, Stephanie has a boyfriend, the rich and jaded Steve Choe (John Cho) who is Ivy league bound, lives in a beach mansion, and has the hottest chick in the school as his girlfriend, and yet whines about being "trapped by expectations" and "breaking the cycle" and wah wah wah. He sees Ben's friendship with Stephanie as harmless, because he figures that Stephanie would never go for Ben anyway and Ben is pretty much "dickless" - so much so that he even has Ben take Stephanie to the winter formal because he can't be bothered with such things (him keeping a blonde prep school mistress on the side and all that). But when Steve asks Ben and his crew to pull a scam for him (robbing his own house as a "wake-up" call to his parents), and they decide to pull a little scam of their own on Steve instead, things go from far-fetched to completely ludicrous.

Maybe I would have to be an Asian-American in the 18-24 demographic to truly "get" this film, but it's hard to see just what all the buzz was about. Culminating in what is supposedly based on a real event (and rather loosely based, I'd say), in which an Asian-American youth was killed by four of his friends in Orange County on New Year's Eve, the film pursues one illogical progression after another. It's a film that grows increasingly devoid of credibility, set amid the backdrop of a world that is free of consequences - not to mention being free of police, teachers, school administrators, parents, or any other adult figures that might interrupt the flow of this little "gangsta's paradise" scenario. These kids are up all night pulling robberies, selling drugs, and partying like Rick James on a coke binge, and yet they still show up for school, get good grades, do community service projects so that it looks good on a college application, and not only participate on the debate team but manage to win the Nationals? Ben gets heavily into coke, and yet manages to easily quit after he wakes up with a nosebleed and realizes that he needs to stop doing drugs. And what are the only visible consequences of his rampant drug use? Does he wreck his car or let his grades go to hell? No. He lets his pet fish die. That's an effective PSA in the making - "Don't do Cocaine, kids - you might forget to feed your fish!!!" And does anyone really believe that Steve would just pawn a girl like Stephanie (who is not only gorgeous, but also the typical brainy overachiever) onto someone just because he didn't feel like getting dressed up for the dance? Or that a girl with as many options as Stephanie has would just put up with that kind of treatment? The screenplay is rife with stupidities and implausibilities like these, and it's really too bad because there was a really interesting story about what it must be like to be an Asian-American high school kid, lurking somewhere in this mess.

Supposedly, the point of Better Luck Tomorrow was to avoid the typical Asian youth stereotypes (Care is taken to never mention the ethnic background of the characters). However, from what I can see, all they did was take the two most prevalent stereotypes (the anal and brainy straight-A student and the wannabe gangsta) and combined them. But the mix just doesn't mesh, and its supposed avoidance of stereotypes and racial issues is the film's ultimate undoing. None of these kids seemed real to me, perhaps with the exception of Stephanie, who comes off as a typical, but believable, high school girl. Cheung gives a good performance, as do Kang and Fan, but they are still just stock characters. Meanwhile, Shen is stilted and his voice-over narration is painfully bereft of conviction. Tobin just vacillates between being obnoxious and whiny, and Cho is just a two-dimensional angst-filled rich boy who spouts cliche'd dime-store philosophy that will surely seem profound to the MTV crowd. With the exception of the guys having to deal with a few racial slurs from some drunken jock at a party (who they then proceed to pull a gun on and kick the shit out of), or the brief discussion on Stephanie's feelings about being adopted into a white family, you could have replaced everyone in this movie with the cast of some lily-white show like Dawson's Creek and nobody would notice the difference.

I wanted to see a gritty and realistic portrayal of troubled Asian-American youth, and I would still like to see it. I'm sure it's out there somewhere, but sadly it's not in BETTER LUCK TOMORROW.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 02/22/04 06:57:05
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2002 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2002 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

8/01/07 Steve Newman Actually quite good - did not kow what to expect. Sky summary way of the mark - watch it 4 stars
1/12/07 Sugarfoot Brillant 5 stars
11/14/06 Bori whats with Han? Same character from Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift? 5 stars
10/19/06 ifyoufly HORRIBLE!!grating cliches in every scene...cigs,shades,skateboards,letter jackets,LADEEFNDA 1 stars
6/19/06 donald I'm SO TIRED of the "kid who have nothing to do but screw and do drugs and kill" genre. 1 stars
4/15/05 ELI fuuuuuuuuck! I don't understand anyone who doesn't like this movie. I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/06/05 clinger26 crap spwaned from Sundance 1 stars
11/21/04 tina johnson Interesting ambitious Chinese high school students that later turn out to be gangsters. 3 stars
10/27/04 Ben Mr.Critic, To watch it and not noticing the actors were asian was the ENTIRE point u idiot. 4 stars
9/22/04 Mike Judelle Chan its so weird I hate it 2 stars
9/10/04 Sean Armenta disappointing 3 stars
7/25/04 DM Great for a debut, but still flawed 4 stars
7/20/04 matt shimizu soo good 5 stars
6/19/04 Jimbo I kept watching cuz I thought it was gonna get better 2 stars
5/11/04 Easy Bleezy pimp shit 5 stars
3/02/04 Michael Mungin Way too stylish, but i can't wait till Justin Lin finds his stride. 4 stars
2/25/04 susan lee the director is awesome guy... support asians in film 4 stars
1/20/04 stevo started off very well, but just got stupider and stupider 2 stars
1/02/04 Erin I love it,Jason Tobin is an awesome actor. 5 stars
11/17/03 autumn A.W.E.S.O.M.E. a MUST SEE! 5 stars
11/16/03 slim movie depicts real teenage azns, seen somethings they act out, performance very realistic. 5 stars
10/28/03 t For a commercial debut - this is classic, better than all the high school flicks in years 5 stars
10/25/03 Gabriel Tothe Totally realistic in it's expliotation of high school male agnst and it's ramifications 5 stars
10/01/03 Cindy unrealistic and dangerous! There are NO consequences for anyones actions in the whole film 1 stars
6/20/03 Sixteen Yoke of Oxygen Unflattering view of Asian-American community. And no distinct ending. 2 stars
6/07/03 Kai Loved this movie!! Jason U R such a sweetie I miss u!!!! 5 stars
5/21/03 Nancy N. When my 16-year-old and I both like the same movie, that's something 4 stars
5/11/03 Z This movie is so real that its even scary. 5 stars
5/09/03 mike If anyone knows when the BLT FULL soundtrack is released, email me at 5 stars
5/04/03 Terry Loved it..I thought its very realistic..3-D characters! 5 stars
5/03/03 katsat Just not convincing, didn't buy any of the "bad stuff" for a second. 2 stars
5/03/03 maiya i loved it!! my friends and i thought it was a great movie =] 5 stars
5/02/03 Aimee Great film! 5 stars
5/02/03 lauren silly 1 stars
5/01/03 Jerry Great film! Definately makes a statement for the Asian film community 4 stars
4/30/03 Janise Parry Shen is gorgeous. I love him! 5 stars
4/29/03 Milly S. boring, disjointed plot, i wanted to leave! 2 stars
4/29/03 Stacy Great Movie!! 5 stars
4/29/03 Evan Thought-provoking and's a great movie... 5 stars
4/28/03 Viewer Totally UNREALISTIC and pointless 2 stars
4/28/03 d v 5 stars
4/20/03 Michael $50 if you do this by tomorrow 5 stars
4/20/03 Justine Lee Refreshing. Hilarious, Dark. Reflects well what can be seen at my high school. 4 stars
4/18/03 Dave Nguyen great movie 5 stars
4/17/03 hmb few sparks of creativity in a melange of over kinetic flash rendered ultimately shallow ... 3 stars
4/17/03 Sully click click BOOM 5 stars
4/15/03 nicole A thought provoking movie! Well acted and directed. 5 stars
4/15/03 d brilliant. thought-provoking. go see it. 5 stars
4/14/03 Jenny Funny and provocative. Embraces a certain part of teenage Asian-American angst. 5 stars
4/14/03 MattG This will be one of my favs for a looong time!!! 5 stars
4/14/03 einral A gripping story told from a different perspective. Bravo! 5 stars
4/14/03 Patricia Awesome, smart, artistic movie. Original in its script and real with its dialogue. Superb 5 stars
4/13/03 Leong Asians are making it in US film 5 stars
4/12/03 AngelBear Awesome movie! Blows the "model minority" sterotype out the window! 5 stars
4/12/03 Jesse Parsells what's the point of the film?... going for goofy comedy or over the top drama/ violence? 3 stars
4/09/03 jamie harris It was awesome! And Parry Shen his ssoooo HOTT!!!!!! 5 stars
4/06/03 joe budden Great action and drama 5 stars
4/04/03 Jesse Lin Excellent characters, great movie! Definitely worth watching... 5 stars
4/04/03 Amy It's a welcome change to the neatly packaged and highly predictable storylines of Hollywood 5 stars
4/02/03 Brandon Judell An ordeal to sit through. Well-meant though. 2 stars
3/31/03 Lyn Thet Enjoyable, interesting, look forward to his next movie 4 stars
3/22/03 John Andes go see this FILM!! 5 stars
3/18/03 David Lee Most Awesome Movie EVER!! 5 stars
2/01/03 T. S. Great Film! 5 stars
1/19/03 kevin yee Awesome 5 stars
12/27/02 deedo AWESOME! 5 stars
12/22/02 ShaolinMiddleFinger Great great movie 5 stars
10/10/02 Ricecakes Reminds me of my high school days... *sigh* memories this isthe asian "do the right thing" 5 stars
8/14/02 Sompathana Phitsanoukanh This will break all the barriers, and let in a flooded of more Asian Americans into movies! 5 stars
7/06/02 B-One Excellent movie! Two thumbs up! 5 stars
5/23/02 Tippy rather disturbing, even if not soley for the irk factor, definitely worth watching 4 stars
5/21/02 jtc kudos to justin 5 stars
5/18/02 Teresa Kao Geat ready for the Asian American century. 5 stars
4/28/02 Savina Goo This film shows Asian Amercians as real people. 5 stars
4/21/02 Kubrox Cliches + Asian Leads = Originality!? 2 stars
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  11-Apr-2003 (R)



Directed by
  Justin Lin

Written by
  Justin Lin

  Parry Shen
  Jason Tobin
  Roger Fan
  Sung Kang
  Karin Anna Chueng
  John Cho

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