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Monday, 13 November 2017

Retro Review: Better Luck Tommorow (2002)

Better Luck Tomorrow
Cast: Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho
Genre: Crime-drama
U.S Box office gross: Over $3.8 million

Plot: A group of over-achieving Asian-American high school seniors enjoy a power trip when they dip into extra-curricular criminal activities

'Great To Have A Different Take On Asian-American Myth & Shattering Stereotypes, But It Just Wasn't Edgy Enough'

I cannot tell you how incredibly disappointed and underwhelmed I felt about this film, after all the praise that has been lauded and that I was looking forward to Better Luck Tomorrow as this gritty, interesting and entertaining drama about a group of young Asian males who put down their studies in favour of breaking the law and causing trouble wherever they go. & one reason for this is the movie went down the MTV production route and as a result, any of the heightened impact and tension it tried to evoke was lessened. & with that, the story and its characters never exploded & shocked me as it should have done. It never left me in awe.

Better Luck Tomorrow was directed by Justin Lin, who went on to do the Fast & the Furious movies and the film follows four students, Ben, Virgil, Daric and Han who get straight A's as well as throwing wild parties, get into fights. There is also a romantic storyline involving the main character, Ben. 

I know what some of you are probably thinking: as I am Chinese/Asian, I should be able to enjoy this film and get into it as much as I could. Well, I tried to, but the story and the direction never captured my attention. I found it convoluted. & even if this story was written with White or Black characters in place of the Asian ones and the story remained the same as it was, I still wouldn't feel any more different, and I'd still find it bland. 

Before I tuned in, I read the plot for this movie and for me, it was in a way familiar with Dead Presidents with the Asians rebelling and going against the model minority standards myth. I was thinking that perhaps Better Luck Tomorrow would do for Asians and Asian Americans as Dead Presidents did for African-Americans and have very edgy, in-yer-face characters with striking personalities. 

When I did sit through it, it just never offered that to make it more worthwhile and to make the film more talked about. All that talk about this film being gritty and hard-edged never transpired, onscreen. Justin Lin's MTV look and feel just never resonated and made strides. It's just vignettes and scenes of characters talking about various 'stuff', sniffing coke, having sex but it was never entertaining. & besides, running credit card scams and a high school cheatsheet to dealing with Coke & guns, just doesn't reek of shocking to me, but it is minuscule and petty. The only scene that had me watching was when the Asian American students beat up the racists. 

It's a shame. I really enjoyed Big Trouble in Little China and The Joy Luck Club and I was hoping that Better Luck Tomorrow would join the ranks of those movies. Yet had it gone down the mainstream, commercial route with more established production values, it would have helped this movie a lot. The indie camera work is okay at best, but it just never suited this story that it tried to tell to the audience, well to me anyway. The characters motivations also appear to be not very ambiguous and rather muddled, & I got no sense of their motivations and reasonings for their actions and behaviours. 

Better Luck Tomorrow is or be it was also touted for shattering and breaking Asian stereotypes - when arguably, what it did was highlight the most common stereotype in the brainy geek who studied hard at school. The film's reluctance also in addressing prejudiced attitudes and racial issues, especially in relation to the characters Asian-American identity, further undermines the film's intentions, which is also not made abundantly clear. 

The further the film went on, the more it couldn't decide which direction to take the movie into, and with that, I cared even less for it. 

Final Verdict:

The film shows promise, especially at the beginning but in the end, it just doesn't deliver what it set out to do and that I found it completely underwhelming and it never went to lengths for me to truly love it. I barely was able to finish it that come to the 40th-minute mark, I lost all interest. There is no edge, no feeling of drama and hardly any real grit to this film dubbed a crime drama. Even when it descends down the darker path, it just never went far enough and plus, it was too sterile.  

As I mentioned, but for a few exceptions of the Asian characters dealing with a few racial slurs and Stephanie being adopted into a White family, this is the type of tale where even with White or Black characters, it would still be the same story and it would still feel tepid and mundane. 

Unconvincing and not gritty enough, Better Luck Tomorrow? More like tough luck.


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