Better Luck Tomorrow

Genre: Feature/Drama
Ethnicity: General Asian American
Themes: Identity/Representation, Youth (Youth Crime)
Date: 2003
Running Time: 100 min.
Director: Justin Lin
Producers: Justin Lin and Julie Asato
Availability: Widely available on DVD through retail venues (List Price: $19.99), or rental through Netflix; Also available on VHS.
Ben is the stereotypical "model minority" Asian American — an intelligent, hard-working high school freshman, confident that he is bound for an Ivy League college.  Approached by Daric, the savvy senior valedictorian, Ben and his friends Virgil and Han start selling cheat sheets.  This clandestine "business" spirals into scams at stores, stealing a new shipment of computers from the school, and eventually into selling drugs.  Between working at a fast-food restaurant and volunteering at the local hospital, Ben discovers that kids who are smart enough can get away with anything.  As their lives careen into a mix of drugs, sex, violence — and Academic Decathlon tournaments — Ben and his suburban gang challenge the stereotypes of youth, Asian Americans, and suburban life.  Justin Lin’s Better Luck Tomorrow is an unsettling exploration of adolescence, cleverly captured through the SAT vocabulary words that Ben memorizes daily: "quixotic," "temerity," and "catharsis".

Compilation of reviews from the film’s official website:

Ebert, Roger.  "Succeeding at success Tale of Asian-American teens mixes comedy, darkness."  Denver Post.  April 25, 2003.

Handy, Bruce.  "Teenage wasteland."  Vanity Fair.  May 2003.

Hornaday, Ann.  "‘Better Luck’: Teens’ Slippery Slope."  Washington Post.  April 18, 2003.

Lin, Lynda.  "Movie Review: "Better Luck Tomorrow" breaks stereotypes."  April 2003.

Long, Tom.  "Teen drama ‘Better Luck’ has good fortune in talented director."  Detroit News.  April 25, 2003.

Mitchell, Elvis.  "Teenagers determined to damage their resumes."  New York Times.  April 11, 2003.

Nevius, C.W.  "‘Tomorrow’ has its day/Story of Asian American overachievers gone bad has moviegoers talking."  San Francisco Chronicle.  April 17, 2003.

Patterson, John.  "The bad luck club: Asian-Americans were once under-represented in movies. Now the tide is turning."  The Guardian (UK).  May 30, 2003.

Thrupkaew, Noy.  "Filmic Face-Lift."  The American Prospect.  May 2003.

Supplementary Materials
Aderer, Konrad.  "Justin Lin: Getting Better All the Time."  Asian American Film.  December 27, 2001.
Interview with filmmaker Justin Lin
Huang, Joan.  "Perry Shen: Interview."  Asian American Film.  April 1, 2002.

Huang, Joan.  "Sung Kang: Interview."  Asian American Film.  April 1, 2002.

Wang, Oliver.  "Interview: Justin Lin."  Mother Jones.  Sept/Oct 2002.

Discussion Questions
1.  Justin Lin’s film has been challenged by some film critics as "denigrating to [the Asian American] race."  Does Better Luck Tomorrow claim to represent the Asian American community?  Do filmmakers have an obligation to present "their" community only or exclusively in a positive light?  What do you think motivated the critics’ comments?

2.  How do the characters’ ethics and value systems change and evolve through the film?  Is it legitimate to evaluate their actions through the lens of morality?  How else might you characterize the changes they go through during the film? 

3.  Various characters comment at certain moments in the film that someone "needs a wake-up call" or that "I’m so happy I can’t stand it."  What do these statements mean?  Do stereotypes and ideals of success in fact restrict youth in exploring their identity and place in society?

Asian American Filmography ExEAS