Better Luck Tomorrow  (2003)


Starring: Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, John Cho

Director: Justin Lin

Rating: R

Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 30, 2003
Review posted: September 25, 2003

Spoilers: Minor


Reviewed by Dennis Landmann




Never underestimate an overachiever. To his classmates and teachers, high-schooler Ben Manibag (Parry Shen) appears to be the "model" student: a perfectionist and overachiever, destined for nothing less than graduating at the top of his class and then attending a prestigious college. But underneath the persona is a darker side-Ben and his bored high-school buddies lead double lives, flying high in a world of petty crime and material excess in order to ease the pressures of "being perfect". Itís a free-wheeling lifestyle that soon takes a downward spiral, leading to an unexpected end.




Newcomer Justin Lin displays some distinctive talent in Better Luck Tomorrow, which he co-wrote with Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez. Being the filmís editor Lin enjoys the freedom to experiment with slowing down sequences to attain a cool slow-motion effect or speeding up certain scenes to convey the passing of time.


This film is unlike the average teen film because it stars an all Asian cast and explores several conditions of the teen psyche. The first 30 minutes are interesting and enjoyable to watch. Parry Shenís narration guides the viewer through the first act, and everything seems to be going well for the main characters. Ben comes across as an all-around nice guy, because Shen plays him with charm. His friends are pretty diverse albeit being somewhat one-dimensional. The performances of the actors are all very good, most notably Shen, Roger Fan as Daric, and Sun Kang as Han.


However, just because the film is cool-looking and enjoys a fun first-half, Better Luck Tomorrow is not without its flaws. First of all, the narrative is unrealistic. This gang of four friends gets away with quite a few things. They start out by supplying cheat sheets to other students and running scams at local hardware stores, something that could work and they could get away with. Although when they begin to sell/do drugs and crash parties all day and night in the second act, the film heads into the wrong direction. Moving from an enjoyable first act into a destructive and mostly unbelievable second act hurts the film somewhat.


Also, Lin and the two co-writers maintain the characters can sustain academic proficiency and still find time to do all the stupid things they do, but this is illogical. Where are the adults in this film? They donít exist here, which removes any criticism these guys need to take into consideration. Their motives are seriously demented at times. And when one of the characters is killed for a stupid reason, the film betrays its genuine appearance. So, with the film devoid of any adult characters, except for a male teacher, reinforces the narrative as unrealistic.


Despite its flaws, Better Luck Tomorrow succeeds in presenting an overall enjoyable teenage drama. Well, the drama is mostly haphazard. For some reason the flaws above do not drag down the filmís enjoyment. Justin Lin keeps his film on a fair balance that suggests an overall good time, though the success of the film is also mostly due to the ability of the actors to play their parts convincingly. Without them this film would rate lower.


The Video


Paramount presents Better Luck Tomorrow in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are well-saturated and vibrant. The color palette includes familiar colors, but at times neon-like colors make welcome appearances. Print flaws exist only in small amounts, such as the occasional spots of grain. Picture detail is sharp, however, and gives this film a pretty defined look. Dark scenes and black levels look pretty decent. Overall, this is a pretty nice transfer.


The Audio


Paramount presents Better Luck Tomorrow in English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The soundtrack penetrates the soundfield nicely, especially the many songs throughout the film. Rear speakers are active on occasion. Ambient sounds donít do much. Dialog scenes are clear and easy to understand, with generally all of it coming from the two front channels. Surround usage is very limited, but the soundtrack supports the surround system in a generally decent way, though it is front-heavy most of the time. Overall, this is decent presentation.


The Extras


The only supplement here is a Commentary by Director Justin Lin, Ernesto M. Foronda and Fabian Marquez. This is a fairly conversational track and youíll probably get some interesting tidbits from it, such as filming had to stop because people were yelling ďMILFĒ when they saw John Cho, but as a whole itís not very interesting; decent at best. Oddly, thereís no Theatrical Trailer here. All in all, I didnít expect much in terms of extras from this release.


You can select to view the film with optional English subtitles. The DVDís menus are not animated but easy to navigate. The 99-minute feature is organized into fourteen chapters. A paper insert lists scene selections.




Better Luck Tomorrow features a pretty good cast and the performers all do a great job. Some of the filmís flaws, however, are detrimental, though for some reason they donít impact the film on a large level. Video/audio is pretty decent, and the sole extra is alright. Rent this DVD for an interesting, albeit heavily exaggerated look at the life of a particular group of Asian American teenagers.









OVERALL (not an average)









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