Everyone knows a guy like Ben--the perfect Asian American high school teen. He's an extremely intelligent perfectionist, an overachiever whose tunnel vision will lead to nothing less than graduation at the top of his class and acceptance to the best Ivy League University. Ben lives in an upper-middle class conservative L.A. suburb. As he struggles to achieve social acceptance in high school, we discover his darker side. Along with his two friends Virgil and Virgil's cousin Hal, Ben leads a double life of mischief and petty crimes that alleviate the pressures of perfection and only become worse when he meets up with Daric, the senior valedictorian who is also a time bomb ready to explode. With Daric at the helm, this gang of misfits band together to form a suburban gang who tumble into a downward spiral of excitement, excess and lurking danger.
This teenage-wasteland melodrama plays off its sly, punning title by starting with the bungled, bloody aftermath of a crime gone wrong and then shifts into flashback mode — the same opening that has benefited hundreds of movies since "Asphalt Jungle" first made it popular and Quentin Tarantino revived it with adrenalized panache. Justin Lin, the writer and director of this shrewdly tense piece of storytelling, recognizes that sometimes it's good for a filmmaker to stir up trouble. He does so by taking the group most often orphaned into stereotypical behavior by teen films, Asian-Americans. Ben (Parry Shen), a naive grind of an overachiever, is pulled into an orbit of friends and small-time criminals. First comes a lucrative cheating operation, a hustle that gives the boys way too much spare cash to go along with their extra free time. And the kids find that their brains and ambition work just as well racking up the kinds of activities that don't look good on a college application. Their homeroom-based guile finally leads Ben, who eventually wants to break free, into one last, potentially liberating crime. Ben, who has probably seen the same movies most of the audience has, knows things probably won't come to a good end, but he can't really walk away. — Elvis Mitchell
2003-04-11 | Elvis Mitchell | Read the New York Times Review of Better Luck Tomorrow