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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The APAHM Project Day 28: Better Luck Tomorrow

Film: Better Luck Tomorrow

Director: Justin Lin

Release: 2002

Where to watch: Xfinity with a STARZ subscription

Why it made the list:

Every list I looked up for Asian American films included these three films: “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Joy Luck Club,” and “Better Luck Tomorrow.” I had never heard of the latter, but had heard of its director, Justin Lin. Praised for showing Asian Americans in non-stereotyped roles, BLT is a coming-of-age story that stars a young John Cho and Sung Kang. Kang’s character as Han Lue has been confirmed to be the same Lue as the “Fast and Furious” franchise with BLT being his origin story.

My thoughts:

I hate to state the obvious, but I have never been a teenage boy. I also don’t have a brother. This film is very much a guy movie. There was crime, references to porn and drug usage, underage drinking; “typical teenage guy” stuff. The film is loosely based on a real murder case in California in which an Asian American teenager was murdered by a group of Honor Roll Asian American teenage boys. Yes, there’s murder.

The film definitely kept my interest. Lin did an excellent job in both writing and directing this film. The core characters seem to be some of the few Asians in their school and are pegged as math club members and token basketball players. Once their reputation gets out that they are a group not to mess with (“We had the run of the place. Rumors about us came fast and furious. One had us linked with some Chinese mafia. It was fine with us because it just put more fear in everyone.“) they begin to run with it and get into petty theft and drug dealing. However, once they take it a few steps too far, they face the fallout and get a ”wake up call” themselves.

I read a great article about the film and its impact here. It does a good job at explaining that this film didn’t really exist for all Asian Americans but was simply a story about two Asian American teenage boys. The film screened at Sundance where a critic asked during a Q&A if Lin felt it was irresponsible for him to shed such a negative light on Asian Americans. Another critic, Roger Ebert, had this to say in response: "What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?'...This film has the right to be about this people, and Asian-Americans have the right to be whatever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people."

As we’ve been saying all month, we have stories to tell that are universal. We shouldn’t be chained to other people’s perception of us. The film’s investors had wanted to whitewash the entire cast, something that is still happening today (such as Rachel Chu in “Crazy Rich Asians”). What Lin and others are proving is that when you believe in your story and your people and yourself, people will gravitate towards that drive and passion. This film went on to get good reviews and distribution rights and really helped propel Lin’s directing career. I applaud Lin and so many others for not backing down from their voice or their vision. Lin knew how he wanted this film to be and he made it so. This film features well-rounded characters who happen to be Asian. Additionally we saw these characters being vulnerable, which is often not a trait we see in male characters.

Does it deserve to stay on this list?

There aren’t many Asian American coming of age films that come to my mind (Sundance happened to put out a list of some I had never heard of). “Better Luck Tomorrow” fits the bill and was a great watch. It had me guessing what would happen next and I was really invested in the story. Researching more about how this story got made, it made me appreciate it even more. A great interview from Lin and the cast recounts the struggles they faced and impact the film had. I can now see why it made all those lists that I Google searched and I’m glad I listened to them.

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