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flick pick | Better Luck Tomorrow 2002
Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Ernesto Foronda, Justin Lin, Fabian Marquez
Starring: Parry Shen, Jason J. Tobin, Sung Kan, Roger Fan, Karin Anna Cheung, John Cho
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama, crime
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic, disturbing, hip
The critic says: ½/ 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis When we first meet him, sweet little Ben Manibag seems like another stereotypical, over-achieving Asian-American geek, doggedly memorizing multisyllabic words each night to ensure that he can up his SAT's sixty points to score that perfect 1600. He and his friend Virgil are the resident smart kids -- school comes easily to them, their CV's are replete with extracurriculars, and they're looking forward to getting out of their boring, upper-middle-class, suburban California existences, and on to college. Ben studies hard, works hard, participates in every club in existence, and even finds time to play basketball and get friendly with a cute cheerleader named Stephanie. What no one knows is that beneath the dutiful good student exteriors, Ben and Virgil have been dipping into a little illegal activity here and there. It all starts off relatively innocent, as Ben, Virgil and Virgil's cousin Han run a credit card scam on the local electronics superstore. But when the three friends get involved with Daric, their adventures descend into the deeply criminal. A lucrative business selling cheat sheets brings in money and power -- along with the ever-elusive cool -- and soon, the four friends are roaming town like a gang, selling drugs, running cons, getting into fights … and loving their new, bad-ass reputations.

Review Watching Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow, I had the same thought I did when I watched Larry Clark's Kids: this sure doesn't look like high school like I remember it. Nor does it look like high school like it's usually portrayed in teen movies -- despite the fact that at the beginning, Lin plays on our expectations of the usual teen stereotypes of smart kids versus cool kids, geeks versus jocks. Instead, Lin's movie is a fresh, entertaining and rather unsettling take on American teen life -- with a little nod to Hong Kong crime flicks and Tarantino-hip, comedic-violent style. Is Better Luck Tomorrow a "good" depiction of what it means to be an Asian-American adolescent? Not as this Asian-American remembers those years -- but this, to me, is one of the most interesting things about watching Ben, Virgil, Daric and Han. These characters don't fit neatly into a type -- unlike just about every other Asian-American character I've seen in movies or read about in books thus far. They're defined not by their ethnicity, but by their actions: not by who they are, but the things they do. In the end, it doesn't matter if as an Asian-American -- heck, any American -- you can identify with any of Lin's morally-devoid protagonists (honestly, for the sake of the future of the world, let's hope you can't). The fact that they're allowed to be as flawed, conflicted and complex as any of the most memorable Caucasian characters in the history of film makes Better Luck Tomorrow well worth a look.—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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