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the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Better Luck Tomorrow

eclectic reviews and opinions

Better Luck Tomorrow

2002, D: Justin Lin S: Erensto Foronada, Justin Lin, Fabian Marquez

When I started tallying Better Luck Tomorrow's redeeming virtues, there were more than I thought at first. Much of the acting is quite good. Jason Tobin is particularly chilling as virginal Virgil, the nerdy sidekick who develops an unexpectedly sadistic appetite for violence. Parry Chen as main protagonist Ben Manibag does a good job of stirring up the familiar adolescent stew of ambition, indecision, and hormonal overdrive; he salts it with just a little more conscience than his friends. The dialogue feels real almost all the time; there's some nice visual framing (and also a few nods to John Woo, although I think that's been overstated in the film's press). This story of bright, upper middle-class high school students who commit an escalating series of misdemeanors and felonies because, as Ben puts it, "he just wanted to do something he couldn't put on a college application," starts with a lot of promise, and it avoids pat resolution.

But it's hampered by ham-handed voice-overs and title card shots with Ben's vocabulary words -- like "quixotic" and "catharsis" -- that match up a little too neatly with the plot. It's weakened by obvious symbolism, such as Ben's interminable basketball foul shot practices and fish-feedings. Lin's adolescents, on the whole, are a little too confident and sure of themselves. And as the gang -- Ben, Virgil, Virgil's taciturn cousin Han (Sung Kang), and cheat-sheet whiz kid Daric (Roger Fan) -- gets more ambitious, reckless, and violent, the story gets mired more deeply in predictability and cliché: there's even a virginity-loss-with-Vegas-prostitute sequence.

Of course, unlike most teenage gang movies, the protagonists of this one are Asian American. But aside from a brief role-reversal scene in which a Caucasian jock gets stomped, and a joking reference to the Tongs, it doesn't really make much difference -- they make the same tired mistakes and learn the same tired lessons as young gangsters from any other ethnic background.

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