Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

Other reviews will probably mention the implausbility of some of this movie’s plot. How, for instance, do a bunch of Asian-American high school overachievers become drug dealers and, in the end, murderers?

Having spent high school with a number of Asian-American overachievers, my question would be, how not?

OK, so maybe I don’t quite picture my Brown- and Harvard- and Georgetown-bound friends running cheat sheet rings or beating the crap out of white guys. And no, Honolulu is still urban enough not to teeter into suburban braindeath. (And on that level, I’m glad Honolulu doesn’t have the landscape to support suburban sprawl, Kapolei notwithstanding.)

But the squeaky-clean perception of Asian-Americans as universally smart and hard-working could use a bit of tarnish.

Sure, I fit into that perceptual stereotype, but believe me — there are Asian-American folks who are complete dolts. I think I’m related to some of them.

Better Luck Tomorrow was eventually picked up by MTV Films after making the rounds at the film festivals. Read into that how you will.

The film definitely has a stamp of coolness — fast-paced time-elapsed shots spliced with slow motion, all the usual music video-style camera tricks.

And the cover of the DVD conveniently labels the character types therein — the Overachiever (Ben Manibag, played by Parry Shen), the Beauty (Stephanie Vandergosh, played by Karri Anne Cheung), the Brains (Daric Loo, played by Roger Fan), the Muscle (Han, played by Sung Kang) and the Clown (Virgil Hu, played by Jason Tobin).

It’s still an enjoyable movie, if you suspend you’re belief just a tad.

Unlike The Debut, which featured a lot of green performances by many of its leads, Better Luck Tomorrow is exceptionally performed by its cast. Virgil may be an annoying character, but Tobin plays him with enough depth to convey just how unstable his character will become.

The plot has some problems with continuity — it’s difficult to imagine all the events that transpired in the story could happen in the course of one semester. Ben, for instance, becomes a cocaine user, then goes cold turkey in the matter of how many weeks? The film doesn’t make that clear.

Still, there’s something cathartic about how the overachieving characters in Better Luck Tomorrow can get away with their scams. Ben explains getting good grades and being school leaders afford them alot of freedom. After all, who would suspect an honor student of pushing drugs?

If suburbia is as mind-numbingly dull as Better Luck Tomorrow makes it out to be, who wouldn’t?