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"Better Luck Tomorrow"

Directed by Justin Lin.
Written by Ernesto Foronda, Justin Lin and Fabian Marquez.
Starring Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, and Roger Fan.
Release Year:  2002 
Review Date:  4/25/03


Another film that is getting major buzz that I heard nothing about nor saw a trailer for prior to seeing it, “Better Luck Tomorrow” is like an interval course--so many ups and downs, but at the end of it, you’re glad that you decided to come on in and give it a roll.

“Better Luck Tomorrow” is a story that has been told a hundred different times from white, black, and Latino character viewpoints; this is the first film I can remember like this that features mostly Asian protagonists.  We get to follow four of these characters for the majority of the film--Ben (Parry Shen), Virgil (Jason Tobin), Han (Sung Kang), and Daric (Roger Fan)--although, this is Ben’s story as we follow him through a four-month stretch leading up to his 17th birthday.  Along the way, we watch as Ben--an honors student that is involved with a host of extracurricular activities at his high school...until he turns to dealing drugs and running scams along with his cohorts--comes full circle as he learns the ins and outs of navigating the high school environment.  He also has a crush on a hottie in his science class named Steph (Karin Anna Cheung), but the only problem there is that she’s got a boyfriend (John Cho) that she doesn’t want to get rid of.

And, so on.  My friend Ben came out of the theater and made an interesting point--he wondered what kind of film “Better Luck Tomorrow” would have been without the influence of a major studio like MTV Films, which produced the movie.  There are moments where it seems like filmmaker Justin Lin--in a heroic task, he wrote, produced, directed AND edited the film--seems to want to make an art movie about what goes through the mind of Ben as he makes decision after (periodically ill-fated) decision.  Then, there are scenes where the boys hang out with a hooker.  Scenes where Steph’s boyfriend and Ben talk about how different their worlds are seem oddly mixed with scenes where the boys have their Teen Movie Requisite Wasted on the Couch Sequence, or when some white kids from the high school make stereotypically derogatory racist remarks at a party towards the Asian foursome.  (This scene, in particular, felt like it shouldn’t have been in the final cut of the film, because it was so ridiculously forced and fake.  Thankfully, it is the only one in the film; Ben, Max and I laughed out loud as the offending kids made some kind of “Hey, the party for you guys is in Chinatown!” crack.  So bad.)

I liked the characters of “Better Luck Tomorrow”, and although their voyage goes more towards the ridiculous near the midpoint as they wheel and deal their way towards thousands of dollars in illicit funds, the foursome is usually quite watchable.  As good as the characters are, though, the final 30 minutes of the film takes you on such a trip as to make the first hour and 20 minutes mostly irrelevant.  The laughs and the good times that come up in the first three-quarters take a decidedly different turn as “Better Luck Tomorrow” draws to a close, and it seems to be reaching for answers at almost every turn.  A “Pulp Fiction”-like conversation over a body didn’t work at all with my audience, and you could feel it as the director tried to force humor down our throats during a situation that was neither funny nor comfortable.

But, in the end, I’m glad I caught the film because I had heard some good things about it.  Truly an original in terms of its perspective; hopefully, director Lin will come back strong with another film soon.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09