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Now Showing: Better Luck Tomorrow

A Film by Justin LinParamount Pictures

Better Luck Tomorrow, directed by 31-year-old Justin Lin, has created quite a buzz since premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Knowing most of the cast was Asian-American-including a female character who was adopted-was enough to put it on my must-see list.

The main characters are six Asian-American teens living in an upper-middle-class Los Angeles suburb. Sixteen-year-old Ben Manibag is the archetypal Asian-American overachiever. But when he befriends Daric, the senior valedictorian, he becomes involved in a cheat-sheet scam, more to alleviate the pressure of perfection than for the quick cash. The scam grows to include two other friends, Virgil and Han, and the four relish their new identity as the school's bad boys. These driven, suburban teens morph into gangsters involved in crime, alcohol, drugs, violence-and eventually, murder.

The main female character, Stephanie - a smart, pretty cheerleader at the center of a love triangle-is an adoptee. At one point Ben asks her: "Do you ever wonder about your real parents?"

"My parents now are my real parents," she replies, then pauses before adding, "but thanks for asking."

Parents be warned: the themes are adult and earn their film's R rating. This is a dark, testosterone-filled ride that contains random gun violence, nudity, a suicide attempt, and a gory murder scene. Parents are conspicuously absent from the story, and the ending is morally ambiguous.

That said, Better Luck Tomorrow breaks new ground. It was the first Asian-American film acquired at Sundance by a major studio. Perhaps more important, it cracks the stereotypes of Asian-American characters-especially male ones. To someone who grew up with the embarrassing example of Long Duk Dong - the caricatured foreign-exchange student in the 1980s release, Sixteen Candles-Lin's film promises a brighter, or at least more realistic, future in cinema.

Reviewed by Katy Robinson, author of A Single Square Picture: A Korean Adoptee's Search for Her Roots (Berkeley Publishing Group, 2002).

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