BETTER LUCK TOMORROW

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


            When I go to the movies, I go with hope; I want to like what I see.  So it is with no pleasure at all that I tell you that I hated every single second of  “Better Luck Tomorrow.”  This nasty movie, with bad acting, writing, and premise, comes to us via Sundance in the guise, I read in the papers, of provocateur.  As Asians, the filmmakers intended to promote discussion of life for a minority group at the margins of American teenage society.  But that is not what they’ve done.      

                The racism they want to imply is delivered primarily in one encounter with a white American bully.  These Asian boys are not on stranded in the margin; they are in the mainstream of American high school life.  They speak perfect English, rank at the top of their class, run most of the after school interest clubs, and are bored nearly to death.  What to do to kill time when you’re perfect?  Bring all those talents to bear on a life of crime, that’s what.  Fill your time with theft, cruelty, and finally murder.

                The slide from suburban boredom to remorseless crime is an especially disgusting sight when it involves a group of bright, accomplished sons of privilege.  In our troubled world, the kids who have the brains to absorb the gift of education have a moral obligation to live up to it.  This gang hangs out not in the streets, but in the backyards of upscale condos.  The giant luxury high school they attend offers no challenge at all.  Along with parties fueled by sex and drugs, the after school interest clubs are the only test of their talents.  What makes them different from ordinary slackers is their determination to build their vocabularies for the SATs and their achievement list for college admissions officers.  These boys intend to go to Harvard.

                As one of them comments with deadly accuracy:  “As long as the grades were there, we were trusted; grades were our cover.”  Alone among them, Ben (Perry Shen) holds our interest.  He learns one new vocabulary word a day, plays basketball to get a sport on his record, and has a good friendship with his lab partner, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung).  As the friendship turns romantic, Ben starts to nurse a protective jealousy toward Stephanie’s boyfriend Steve (John Cho).  It’s a resentment that will feed on the Lord of the Flies atmosphere created by the absence of any adults in their lives. 

There you have it:  four friends who work their way out of suburban boredom with alcohol, pistol whipping, selling cheat sheets, and stealing.  Soon they are awash in ill-gotten money and vomit and cocaine nosebleeds.  Sorry to ruin the ending for you, but here it is:  how many swings of a baseball bat and kicks of a boot does it take to kill a teenager?  This is a sorry mess with no redeeming features whatsoever.


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