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Paramount Studios presents
Better Luck Tomorrow (2003)

"You know how you make decisions that lead to other decisions, but you don't remember why you made those decisions in the first place?"
- Stephanie Vandergosh (Karin Anna Cheung)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: October 27, 2003

Stars: Perry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho, Karin Anna Cheung
Director: Justin Lin

MPAA Rating: R for violence, drug use, language, and sexuality
Run Time: 01h:41m:31s
Release Date: September 30, 2003
UPC: 097363428541
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A-B+B B+

DVD Review

Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow is a truly rare film. It is about high school perils and the trouble that can come when someone believes that they are on top of the world, yet it does not fall into any of the tired clichés or situations that so many teen films do. This is a smart, funny, and often hard-hitting film that serves as a welcome introduction to a talented new director, Justin Lin.

Better Luck Tomorrow begins with a scene of macabre deliciousness. Ben (Shen) and Virgil (Tobin) are enjoying another glorious day in Orange County, California. While sunbathing, the pair hears a ringing cell phone, and each nonchalantly check their respective pagers. To their surprise, the sound comes from neither. Then, as if possessed, they begin crawling through the backyard of a posh suburban home until they find the source of the ringing. As they dig through the ground they find a hand, covered in worms, clutching the phone. It is in moments like this that Better Luck Tomorrow rises above its countless genre mates.

What led Ben and Virgil to this moment began four months earlier at their crowded high school. Both of these guys are on the fast track to the Ivy leagues with high SAT scores as well as an arm's-length list of extracurricular activities. When the basics of life begin to bore Ben, he branches out into crime along with his friends, knowing very well that the group will remain innocent in everyones eyes as long as their GPAs remain sky high. Soon, the group delves into drug dealings as well as other avenues devoid of any type of morals.

What writer/director Lin does so well is eschew the trappings of setting the film in a high school, while also focusing exclusively on Asian-American students. Lin and his fellow screenwriters are owed a wealth of accolades in that they resist using race as an issue and instead present events that seem universal to teens everywhere. The film is also noteworthy in that it offers characters that expand as the film proceeds, growing into developed, fully dimensional creations by the time the credits role. They main stumble withis a romance subplot that seems a bit too out of tone with the remainder of the film.

Each of Lin's young cast members does a fine job of effectively conveying the emotions and plights of their characters. Though no big name stars appear in Better Luck Tomorrow, it is safe to say that at some point this film may be sort of an American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused-type motion picture, where in ten years one can look back and see superstars at the start of their careers.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen track for Better Luck Tomorrow looks great given the low budget of the film. Colors are bright and vibrant with no bleeding; black levels are solid with nice depth and no evident grain. The image is a bit too sharp in spots, though detail is nearly perfect. Edge enhancement does occur occasionally.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is rather sedated with most of the action firmly anchored in the center speaker. Dialogue sound crisp and clear with no distortion, while the left and right speakers as well as the surrounds do a nice but subtle job of reinforcing ambient sounds.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Justin Chin, co-writers Ernesto Foronda and Fabian Marquez
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A commentary track by Justin Lin and co-writers Ernesto Foronda and Fabian Marquez is the lone extra feature, and luckily it is a very involving track. The trio talk largely about production, funding, and locations throughout, though the most astonishing aspect of the track is the sheer talent and knowledge possessed by Lin. The track offers numerous insights into the guerrilla style of the film, as well as the fact that the production was in a roundabout way saved by MC Hammer, thanks to a last minute funding offer.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Better Luck Tomorrow is a film that every teenager should see at some point. MTV did a fine job of pushing the film toward the high school and college markets, but it sadly never got its true shot. Given a new life on DVD, this brilliant deserves to be seen by all. Highly Recommended.


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