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Psyche and Power
Teen gangster tale breaks stereotypes.
BY LOIS WADSWORTH

BETTER LUCK TOMORROW: Writer, director, producer, editor Justin Lin. Writer, producer, music supervisor Ernesto M. Foronda. Producer Julie Asato. Executive producers Gustavo Spoliansky, Michael Manshel, Michael Cole, Troy Craig Poon. Writer, post-production supervisor, Fabian Marquez. Cinematographer, Patrice Lucien Cochet. Production sound mixer Curtis Choy. Starring Parry Shen and Jason Tobin, with Sung Kang, Roger Fan, John Cho and Karin Anna Cheung. MTV Films. Paramount Classics, 2003. R. 98 minutes.

HAN (SUNG KANG), VIRGIL (JASON TOBIN), AND BEN (PARRY SHEN) ON THE FENCE.

Justin Lin's refreshing, exhilarating high school drama focuses on two Asian American students who have been friends since first grade. The film opens as Ben (Parry Shen) relaxes in the sun, while his agitated buddy, Virgil (Jason Tobin), talks nonstop. Virgil just cannot let go and soak up the sun with any pleasure. A ringing cell phone ramps up his tension, and both guys look for its source. The scene flashes back from the hot California sun to the beginning of a dark, chilling adventure gone wrong.

Ben is a straight-A student, with plans for college and career. He and Virgil participate in extra-curricula activities because clubs and service organizations look good on their resumés. Ben plays basketball a couple of hours a day, and he's good. He's proud when he makes the team, doesn't mind warming the bench, and likes wearing the jacket. But he's still just a smart math lab partner to Stephanie Vandergosh (Karin Anna Cheung), the hot teen queen he lusts for. But she has a boyfriend, Steve (John Cho), a smooth operator.

Daric (Roger Fan), a self-anointed, after-school activities poster boy, interviews Ben for the school newspaper. Daric asks tough questions — How does it feel to be the token Asian American on the team? Why doesn't Ben ever get to play if he's so hot? Does Ben think he's being a good Asian American role model sitting on the bench?

Ask the coach, Ben finally says. Daric is using him for his own glory, Ben knows, but he doesn't know how to stop him. After the story comes out, a group of slogan-chanting, placard-waving, student fans appear at the next game, goading the coach to put Ben in and let Ben play. Ben feels humiliated, even though he helps win the game.

Daric has other things in mind for Ben. He involves him in a cheat-sheet scam that pays better than Ben's fast-food job. Virgil wants in, too, and there's even a place for Han (Sung Kang), the group muscle. At this stage, these guys are petty criminals living in middle-class suburban homes.

We never see anyone's parents. It's as if the entire Asian American student body of this high school lives in a stratified society where parents and teachers are invisible. Mom and dad provide the necessities and then retire to their own quarters. Or live in another city altogether.

As their boredom rises, so does the risk they're willing to take in criminal activities. Playing gangstas is pretty seductive to guys weaned on L.A. hip-hop culture. Virgil, the class clown, takes to his newfound campus prestige, but he turns serious once he has a gun to equalize things. From dodging confrontations with bullies, Virgil becomes one. And he likes it.

I want to see all these young actors again, especially Jason Tobin, who plays the volatile Virgil. The character is a loose cannon, but the reason you can't take your eyes off him is Tobin's compelling screen presence. In that sense, he reminds me of Mark Wahlberg's performance in Boogie Nights.

This terrific cautionary tale takes Asian American teens out of the box white teen movies have stuck them in — as brainiacs, nerds and overachievers with an identity problem. These guys are not thinking about identity. They have been raised as privileged, self-confident Southern Californians, not as Chinese Americans, Korean Americans or any other Asian hyphens. They're American, and they've got the guns to prove it.

Better Luck Tomorrow moves Lin's filmmaking future onto the fast track. He took a necessary, super-low budget approach to this film. I look forward to seeing what he does next. Highly recommended despite its occasional, explicit violence, this imperfect but fascinating film is now playing at Cinemark.

 


OPENING OR RETURNING:
Films open the Friday following date of EW publication unless otherwise noted. See archived movie reviews.

Adaptation: Director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman blur boundaries between reality and fictional representation. Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, stuck while writing a screenplay of Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief. Meryl Streep gives a fabulous, comic turn as Orleans, and Chris Cooper's an avid orchid collector. 2002 Academy Award to Cooper. Very highest recommendations. R. LateNite Bijou. Online archives.

Baba (The Father, Turkey 1973): Directed by Yilmaz Guney. A man agrees to take the fall for a crime he didn't commit, but when he gets out of prison, he sees his sacrifice was in vain. At 7:30 pm on 5/6 in 115 Pacific Hall, UO campus. Free.

Come and See (Russia,1985): Elem Klimov's harrowing epic about a boy soldier during the invasion by the Nazis. Powerful anti-war film, highly acclaimed. In Russian, English subtitles. At 7:15 pm on 5/7 in 115 Pacific Hall, UO campus. Free.

Dreamcatcher: Buddy reunion camping trip horror film from Lawrence Kasdan, based on Stephen King's book, stars Morgan Freeman, Donny Wahlberg, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, Thomas Jane and Tom Sizemore. R. Movies 12.

Emerald Forest, The (1985): Young boy is taken by Amazon natives. Directed by John Boorman, it stars his son, Charley, as the boy. Based on a true story, film is beautifully shot in the jungles of Brazil. Stirring portrait of vanishing tribes. R. At 7 pm on 5/7 in 180 PLC, UO campus. Free.

Hours, The: Complex, critically acclaimed film directed by Stephen Daldry stars Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep. Based on Virginia Woolf's life, her novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and Michael Cunningham's novel. Inner lives, daily experiences of three strong women. Also stars Ed Harris, Stephen Dillane, Claire Danes, Miranda Richardson and John C. Reilly. Very highest recommendations. 2002 Academy Award to Kidman, but nine other nominations. PG 13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Korean Film Fest: Nowhere to Hide, acclaimed 2000 Korean film noir by director Lee Myung-Se, is about Korean homicide detectives. Stylish, with atmospheric settings critics say, it shows at noon on 5/3 at Bijou.

Joint Security Area, a political thriller, tracks a military murder in non-man's land. It shows at noon on 5/4 at Bijou.

Lizzie McGuire Movie, The: Disney comedy about a girl on a class trip to Italy who is mistaken for an Italian pop star. Stars Hillary Duff, directed by Jim Fall. PG. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Men and Animals: The Films of Jim Finn and Dean Rank: Experimental films by duo at 7:30 pm on 5/2 at My House.

Ping Pong (Japan): At 7 pm on 5/2 in 207 Chapman, UO. Free.

X-Men 2: The next link in the evolutionary chain? Directed by Bryan Singer, stars Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, James Marsden and more, lots more. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Films open the Friday following date of EW publication unless otherwise noted. See archived reviews at www.eugeneweekly.com.

 

CONTINUING:

Agent Cody Banks: Teen action adventure stars Frankie Muniz as an undercover CIA operative, Angie Harmon as his boss, and Hilary Duff as girlfriend. PG. Movies 12.

Anger Management: Adam Sandler plays a man who must undergo anger management. His shrink, played by Jack Nicholson, moves in with him. Also stars Marisa Tomei. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Bend It Like Beckham: Soccer-crazy girls in London suburb drive their respective families crazy because they'd rather play soccer than think about marriage and shopping. Warm-hearted, generous film is likely to be a big hit. Get onboard early and enjoy!. Highly recommended. PG-13. Bijou. Online archives.

Better Luck Tomorrow: Asian American high school seniors dabble in criminal activities in this satiric, exciting film directed by Justin Lin on a shoestring budget. Honest performances and relevant subject raise it above the usual teen flick. Highly recommended. R. Cinemark. See review this issue.

Bullet-Proof Monk: Chow Yun-Fat is a Zen-calm martial arts master who must find a successor to guard a sacred scroll. Seann William Scott is the unlikely choice. PG-13. Cinemark.

Catch Me If You Can: Steven Spielberg directs Leonardo DiCaprio in tale of Frank Abagnale Jr., an actual '60s con man who passed himself off as a pilot, a doctor and a college professor and forged millions in checks before he was 21. Christopher Walken plays his father, and Tom Hanks is an F.B.I. agent. 2002 Academy Award noms for John Williams' music, Walken. Highly recommended.

PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Chicago: Broadway spectacular directed by Rob Marshall stars Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones as killer dames behind bars who compete for tabloid coverage. With Queen Latifah, John C. Reilly and Richard Gere. 2002 Academy Awards for best picture, supporting actress Zeta-Jones, art direction, sound, editing and costumes. PG 13. Cinemark. Online archives.

Confidence: Ed Burns plays a grifter who swindles a bundle from the wrong guy in James Foley's double-crossing drama. Also stars Rachel Weisz, Paul Giamatti, Luis Guzman, Morris Chestnet. R. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Cradle 2 the Grave: Jet Li and DMX are "Born 2 the life, True 2 the code, Bad 2 the bone." R. Movies 12.

Daredevil: Marvel Comic's Man Without Fear is directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Stars Ben Affleck as the masked vigilante, Jennifer Graner, Michael Clarke Duncan, Colin Farrell, Joe Pantolliano, Jon Favreau and David Keith. PG-13. Movies 12.

Darkness Falls: Thishorror thriller directed by Jonathan Liebesman is about the Tooth Fairy's revenge. One viewer wrote on the IMDB: "God, talk about wretched and boring..." PG-13. Movies 12.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982): Cameron Crowe's adaptation of his own novel is directed by Amy Heckerling, who introduces a memorable cast, including Sean Penn. Also Nicolas Cage, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz and more. R. LateNite Bijou.

Holes: Adventures digging holes at Camp Green Lake for Stanley, who comes from a strange family that's been cursed for generations. Embarrassingly, Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver and Tim Blake Nelson co-star. PG. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Identity: Ten travelers caught in a rip-snorter of a storm seek refuge at a creepy motel in the desert, and sure enough they begin to die. Directed by James Mangold, stars John Cusack, Ray Liotta and lots of screaming women.. R. Cinema World. Cinemark.

It Runs in the Family: Fred Schepisi directs Michael Douglas as a father trying to avoid his father's mistakes. His father, Kirk Douglas, plays his father onscreen. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Jungle Book 2: Same song, second verse from Disney. Mowgli now lives in the man village, but he misses his friends and runs away to the jungle to find them. But he may be found first: by Shere Khan the tiger, his old jungle pals, or his new family. Voices include John Goodman, Haley Joel Osment and Phil Collins. G. Movies 12.

Kangaroo Jack: Taking mob money to Australia, two New York doofuses loose it to a kangaroo. Stars Jerry O'Connell, Anthony Anderson, Christopher Walken and Dyan Cannon. David McNally directs. PG. Movies 12.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: Directed and re-imagined by Peter Jackson, part two of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy continues. New characters, a surprise return and great battles. Director Peter Jackson's second masterpiece. Very highest recommendations. 2002 Academy Awards for sound editing, visual effects. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Malibu's Most Wanted: Jamie Kennedy, Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson in an urban comedy about hip-hop culture. PG-13. Cinemark.

National Security: Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn star as LAPD wannabes who end up as security guards, yet still manage somehow to nab the bad guys. PG 13. Movies 12.

Phone Booth: Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, Katie Holmes and Radha Mitchell star in Joel Schumacher's thriller. R. Cinemark. Online archives.

Real Cancun, The: Theme: Anything can happen during spring break. Okay. R. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Recruit, The: Al Pacino and Colm Ferrell star in this story about the inner workings of the CIA. Also with Bridget Moynahan, and directed by Roger Donaldson. PG 13. Movies 12.

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Works with Time: Splendid documentary by Thomas Riedelsheimer about famous Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. He makes site-specific art from found natural objects. Accessible to anyone who has ever been a child. A visual treat, it's the most beautiful film of the year. NR. Bijou. Online archives.

Shanghai Knights: Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson are out to settle a score in Victorian London in this comedy directed by David Dobkin. PG-13. Movies 12.

Spirited Away: Re-issue of 2002 Academy Award-winner for best animated feature. Japanese animation director Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) follows adventures of 10-year old girl, Chihiro, who discovers a secret world and learns to take care of herself after her parents mysteriously change. Not just for kids, and too scary for preschoolers. Very highest recommendations. PG. Movies 12. Online archives.

 

MOVIE THEATERS
Use the links provided below for specific show times.

Bijou Art Cinemas
Bijou Theater 686-2458 | 492 E. 13th

Regal Cinemas
Cinema World 342-6536 | Valley River Center
Springfield Quad 726-9073 |

Cinemark Theaters
Movies 12 741-1231 | Gateway Mall
Movies before 12:30 are Sat. Sun. only. $1.50 all shows all days.
Cinemark 17 741-1231 | Gateway Mall

 

NEW RELEASES ON VIDEO
Releases subject to change. Available the Tuesday following date of EW publication, sometimes sooner. See archived movie reviews.

Catch Me If You Can: Steven Spielberg and Leonardo DiCaprio have fun in this tale of Frank Abagnale Jr., an actual con man of the 1960s who successfully passed himself off as a pilot, a doctor and a college professor and forged millions in checks before he was 21. Christopher Walken plays his father, and Tom Hanks plays the F.B.I. agent determined to capture him. Highly recommended. 2002 Academy Award nom for John Williams' original score, Walken. PG-13. Online archives.

Emperor's Club, The: Kevin Kline plays a dedicated prep school teacher and Emile Hirsch, the son of a powerful senator, is his student. Twenty years later, they meet again. PG-13.

Jane White is Sick and Twisted: Jane White (Kim Little) escapes into primetime television chat fests in this cult fave comedy directed by David Michael Latt. "Online Video" writes: "Jane makes friends with and encounters a whole sideshow filled with freaks, weirdos, transvestite hookers, aliens, and even finds a serial killer boyfriend." Also stars Wil Wheatin. R.

Way Home, The: From S. Korea comes this tale of a spoiled boy from the city who's sent to live with his aged grandmother in a tiny village. He surprises himself by caring about her. PG.

Next week: Analyze That, Borderline, Comedian, Extreme Ops, The Hot Chick.

 

 


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