Minorities, including (and especially) Asians, have forever tried to find themselves in American movies, struggling to find images that mirror their own lives. Director Justin Lin’s feature film debut Better Luck Tomorrow instantly destroys the monotony of the Caucasian face with its opening shots of Asian faces filling the entirety of the screen. Lin’s upper-middle-class characters are seemingly parentless and struggle with the implications of their racial identities and the soullessness of suburbia. Theirs is a glass prison determined by academic achievement and money, and this is a rare teen movie where the leads are actually smart and ambitious. Lin turns the stereotype of the Asian American geek on its head by taking Ben Manibag (Parry Shen) on a morally corrupt roller coaster ride. Beginning with petty crime, Ben turns to drugs and violence to fill the emptiness caused no doubt by his empty pursuit of the American dream. At times, Lin seems to invite the audience to laugh and seek pleasure in the film’s violence. At a party, Ben and his friends beat the ignorance out of a white teenager; there’s an undeniable and uncomfortable catharsis to this scene but the underlying anger has a way of seeping through the screen. You can feel the moral conflict within these characters and the film itself: the almost irrational nature of these characters’ motives and the misdirected anger of the film. Better Luck Tomorrow is quite shocking and not only because of the occasional brutality seen on screen. It doesn’t offer audiences easy answers familiar to dozens of MTV-style teen comedies. Its rage is problematic but the film itself is a breath of fresh of air.
What with all its loud colors, flashy editing techniques and exuberant music, it's understandable why MTV Films snatched Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow for release. Paramount Home Video offers the film here in its original 1.85:1 anamorphic video transfer. Blacks are rock solid, skin tones are spot-on and the saturated color palette is a marvel. Unfortunately, the film's brash color scheme appears to have been too much to handle. Whites are a bit overblown and, while edge halos are not that intrusive, the image is often a bit too sharp (especially the lines around the actors). The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track isn't very expansive, but since the film's image is so brash it's probably a good thing that the music is not as abrasive as it could have been.
Nothing but a commentary track by director Justin Lin and co-writers Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez. It's obvious this is a first for Lin, whose passion is unmistakable but he seems less concerned with tackling the issues and themes posed by the film than he is with relating mostly mundane production stories: the 20 minutes they had to shoot one scene; telling us the gym in the film was the one from his own high school; and that he used Kodak 5277 film and that the movie was printed on premier stock. Obviously this track should appeal most to film students and aspiring filmmakers.
Better Luck Tomorrow looks good and sound goods (witness the beautiful "magic hour" sequence). Too bad the film isn't as politically subversive as it thinks it is (or should have been).