Better Luck Tomorrow (2003)
I watch a lot of films. Good, bad, sad, mindless, thought-provoking films about the past, present and future. However, recently, learning about the roles, positions and portrayal of Asian Americans in the media in class has changed my selection process when watching films and critical lens. No longer do I thoughtlessly go for the most attractive stars, aesthetically pleasing posters, intriguing trailers and highest IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes ratings. Instead I currently only watch films featuring Asian or Asian American actors and foreign (non-American) films. It is quite difficult to find American films with Asian American actors as main characters and not sidekicks or stereotypes. Luckily, one such film was recommended in class, Better Luck Tomorrow (2003).
The film features a group of delinquent, drug dealing, basketball playing, straight A Asian American high schoolers. Director Justin Lin offers another dimension to the conventional Asian American stereotypes in a classic American coming of age narrative. Academic and extracurricular excellence is put to use, stealing tests, writing and selling cheat sheets. The main protagonist makes the basketball team, only to be its bench warmer ad token Asian American. The all Asian American group smashes the model minority myth by thieving and committing acts of violence while dealing with issues like love, lust, greed and getting into a good college that often aren’t part of Asian American characters in media as they are often more occupied with struggling to speak English or ‘fitting in’.
Lin succeeds in casting Asian Americans in a film where the characters are not bound to solely being Asian American but also experience struggles and growth. He achieves this through deconstructing stereotypes while at the same time addressing racism and tokenisation, taking the model away from model minority through violence and crime. But does it have to be one or the other?
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