Around 10 years ago, movies based on high school life were pretty popular. They were usually romantic comedies and were usually filled with a good amount of raunchiness. They also used fresh, young and sometimes recognizable faces like Jennifer Love Hewitt to help sell it to the masses. They made a lot of people laugh and made other people good money, but they ended up becoming pretty similar sooner or later and that is probably one of the reasons the genre has lost some of its luster. During that same time span, a film called Better Luck Tomorrow was introduced to the high school movie world. This independent film brought its own style and personality onto the scene and brought a violent and dramatic turn from the usual with it.
Better Luck Tomorrow is a film about a group of Asian-American outcast who embody the typical stereotypes associated with them. Ben (Parry Shen) is the star of the film and is a 16-year-old high school student who's only focused on doing all he can to get accepted into the best universities in America. With all of his time and energy being put into being on the basketball team (he doesn't actually play), doing volunteer work and whatever else will look good on his resume, he doesn't have much time for anything else. That all changes when he meets Daric (Roger Fan), a writer for the school's newspaper.
After Daric writes an article claiming that Ben is a token player and is only on the team to add to its diversity, Ben leaves the team. Once the anger subsides, he eventually becomes friends with Daric and he's introduced to a cheat sheet scheme that would pay him a little money. After a while, Ben gets his friends Virgil (Jason Tobin) and Han (Sung Kang) involved in the scheme. What we witness after this appears to be an evil, careless and irresponsible nature developing within Ben and his inner circle of friends. Due to their success, they push the envelope by going into riskier illegal practices over time. They go from being normal hard-working outcasts, to criminals who fall in love with their own images and reputations. Their new-found popularity eventually alters their way of thinking as everything begins to spiral out of control and takes them to depths they would have never imagined.
These guys struggle finding their own identities in a world where they're destinies and images appear to be already chosen for them. You kind of get a sense that they're lost in the shuffle of society and are just doing what everyone would expect from your average Asian-American kid. These values come off as soulless requirements for these teenagers that have desires and personalities separate from what's expected. You can say that their actions are kind of a release from all of that. Whether it's good or bad, it can be frustrating to a lot people who have to deal with this and that's one of the main points of the film.
Lin is effective at making everything surrounding these characters seem almost empty and superficial. Whether it's the other students, the environment or even the goals that they have, everything just goes on as it should. It really helps exemplify the point that the movie wants to make. It makes the anger of the kids more pronounced and allows them to still be viewed as harmless through the eyes of the rest of the world that they live in.
Better Luck Tomorrow is more than an alternate to the standard high school drama. It's also about the frustrations that people can have when they think they're being reduced to stereotypes and aren't allowed to be human. In this film, this is expressed in the rebellious, illegal and sometimes violent nature of a group of kids who believe they're expected to be somewhat perfect. While this movie does have its flaws, it does its job in more ways than one.
Director: Justin Lin
Karin Anna Cheung
Film Length: 101 minutes
Release Date: Apr 11, 2002
Distributor: MTV Films