Better Luck Tomorrow review by Mike Long

As a critic, I feel that I am working for you, the reader. Therefore, I always try to be honest in my assessments of movies and DVDs. But, I don't live in vacuum, and I'm always aware of what other critics and the public are saying about movies. And when my opinion doesn't jibe with what virtually everyone else seems to think, that can be disconcerting. Oh well, there's nothing wrong with being different, and thusly, I give you my honest opinion on Better Luck Tomorrow.

Better Luck Tomorrow focuses on a group of Asian-Americans teens who live in suburban Los Angeles. Ben (Parry Shen) is a high-school senior, who gears all of his activities (school, work, hobbies, etc.) towards what will look good in his college applications. His best friend, Virgil (Jason J. Tobin) is more of a slacker, but he is (apparently) equally as smart as Ben, as they are both on the "Academic Decathalon" team. The captain of that team, Daric (Roger Fan) is conceited, but often gets his way. Ben's lab-partner, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung), is dating Steve (John Cho), but Ben secretly pines for Stephanie.

From the outside, these kids seem to have it made. Yet, their pursuit for perfection has bred boredom and dissatisfaction with their lives. To combat this, they get involved in anti-social activities. Ben and Virgil often team with Virgil's cousin, Han (Sung Kang) to pull small-time scams, such as ripping off computer stores. Daric approaches Ben with a proposition to sell cheat-sheets. The success of this endeavor leads Ben, Virgil, Daric, and Han to pursue more sophisticated crimes. This causes the group to spiral out of control and lose sight of all that they used to hold sacred.

Co-writer/editor/director Justin Lin has done a fantastic job with the making of Better Luck Tomorrow. The film has tons of style and Lin's restless camera constantly prowls the landscapes of the movie, keeping the viewer slightly on edge. The cinematic style in a given scene usually amplifies/reflects the tone of the moment. Lin has also struck paydirt with his cast. Shen is fabulous as Ben, the film's moral-center. Shen is in almost every scene of the film and handles it all very well. Tobin, bearing a slight resemblance to Hong Kong favorite Sam Lee, provides some comic relief, but also brings forth some very emotional moments. Fan's character, Daric, epitomizes cool intelligence, and he never lets his veneer crack.

Unfortunately, all of that talent can't overcome the fact that Better Luck Tomorrow has an incredibly tired and unoriginal plot. Smart, spoiled, rich kids get bored and do bad things? Man, I've never seen that before. I may be mistaken, but wasn't there a TV show called "Beverly Hills, 90210" that featured nothing but bad rich kids? As for movies, we've had recent releases such as The In-Crowd, Gossip, and countless others in which the elite felt that they could get away with anything. This is just another story where the kids drink, take drugs, have sex, and break the law, with nary an adult in sight.

During the film's theatrical release, I heard a lot of talk about the Asian-American angle of the film, but truth be told, that never really comes into play. Sure, there is the stereotype of the driven and focused Asian-American student, but these kids could have easily come from any other ethnic background. In the audio commentary, Lin states that he wanted the film to be about class, not race, and he has certainly succeeded on that front. The problem is that the race aspect was the only original thing that the film had going. In all fairness the opening scene and the scene at the ending which echoes it are quite cleverly done, but otherwise, we've seen all of this before. The characters are all stereotypes (this idea is further cemented by the DVD-box art, where we get "The Beauty", "The Mastermind", "The Clown") and the bulk of the movie is very predictable. Justin Lin has created a beautiful film and I expect good things from him in the future, but Better Luck Tomorrow is not the groundbreaking project that it could have been.

Better Luck Tomorrow steals the DVD spotlight courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is clear, but it does show a fine amount of grain during most every shot. However, the picture is somewhat soft, and isn't as sharp as most images from DVD. There is some noticeable artifacting, and horizontal lines tend to create video noise. On the plus side, the colors look great and the fleshtones are natural. Given the low-budget origins of the film, the look of this transfer is to be expected. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The film's driving rock soundtrack (no doubt enhanced by the fact that this is a presentation of MTV Films) sounds great and provides the only real moments of surround sound and bass action.

The only extra on this DVD is an audio commentary featuring Justin Lin, along with co-writers Ernesto M. Foronda & Fabian Marquez. This trio provides a great deal of information about the film's production, relaying several anecdotes concerning the trials of shooting on a shoe-string budget (funded by credit card). They also speak at length about their cast. But, given the serious tone of the film, this is a surprisingly loose and not so serious commentary. Maybe they were tired of all the straight-faced questions about the film.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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