Better Luck Tomorrow
Ben Mannibag (Perry Shen) is too smart for his own good. He has a perfect GPA, he's doing all the right things to get into Ivy League colleges, and he finds it harder and harder to not commit crimes. With his friends Virgil (Jason J. Tobic) and Han (Sung Kang) he steals computer products, and after having a brush-up with straight-A student Daric (Roger Loo), the four join forces to provide cheat-sheets for money. Soon this leads to piles of cash, more scores, and drug dealing. Ben is most interested in Stephanie Vandergosh (Karin Anna Cheung), whom Virgil is convinced appeared in a porno, and who has a prep-school boyfriend, Steve (Steve Cho, best known as a "Milf" chanter in the American Pie series) that takes a funny liking to Ben. Justin Lin's directorial debut Better Luck Tomorrow (2003) shows several of its influences on its sleeve, most obviously Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas with its opening sequence and dry narration, as well as Danny Boyle's Trainspotting with its group of friends that help keep each other corrupted. And as the film begins with Virgil and Ben finding the cell phone of a corpse, the direction the film takes on its path to destruction is fairly obvious, giving earlier scenes a heightened tension that skewers some of the pacing (Ben and crew seem to be hitting rock-bottom too early, although it's a funk they pull out of). What makes Lin's film so exciting and energizing is that Lin has a great sense of camera, and though he uses a lot of flashy cinematic effects and moments (some lifted from those other directors, but many original) they all work. And what makes Better Luck Tomorrow more than just a great first film is Lin's perception of people. With his crew of intelligent students, he recognizes that these characters want to accomplish something of their own, and every time they get too good at something (be it sports, drug dealing, or schoolwork), the challenge is gone, they get bored, and then create even more problems for themselves by trying to change or raise the stakes (which leads to the film's depressing, but open, conclusion). It's this insight into these characters that makes Lin an artist to keep an eye on. Paramount presents Better Luck Tomorrow in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and in DD 5.1 audio. Extras are limited to an enthusiastic commentary by Lin and co-writers Ernesto Foronda and Fabian Marquez. Keep-case.