BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, directed by 31-year-old Justin Lin and written by Mr. Lin, Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez, is the darkest portrayal of Asian Americans on screen to date. Talk about controversy. The film is stirring up a lot of that, particularly at its 2002 Sundance screening where Roger Ebert stood on a chair and defended its portrayal of Orange County Asian American high school students who are over achievers with a penchant for guns, drugs and sex. The film chronicles high school senior Ben Manibag played by Parry Shen, and his three partners in crime; Virgil Hu, Han, and Daric Loo, as they sell cheat sheets, drugs and eventually commit murder and whose primary motivation is teenage boredom. A little coke sniffing helps alleviate the pressure of SAT scores and Ivy League college applications. The film smashes the stereotype of Asian Americans as squeaky-clean overachievers and apparently Lin has been criticized for this unflattering, yet authentic representation of his community. The film is based on a true story that happened at an Orange County Highschool a few years ago. One criticism is that the actors look more like grad students than highschool students.
Made on a tiny budget of $250,000 or $500,000 (I have read both figures) it has been picked up by MTV Films and hopefully people will come out to see a film with Asian characters that aren’t delivering Chinese food or involved in some kind of martial arts. It is one of the only films that presents three-dimensional Asian American characters and is worth viewing for that reason alone.