The Asian American Man vs. the American Culture

Better Luck Tomorrow is a film directed by Steven Lin, who in the midst of producing it, hoped to bring attention to the ever changing identity of the Asian American man. The contrasting concepts of the Asian American man is depicted by the characters and their journey throughout the film. In the film, we have contrasting characters: Ben vs. Steve and Virgil vs. Han. Ben, as the main character, and his friend Virgil, represent the stereotypical Asian American student. They strive for a 4.0 GPA, endless amounts of extracurricular activities, and the perfect SAT score: all in the hopes of getting into an Ivy League university. Steve and Han, as Ben narrates, represents everything that they are not. Steve is the modern Asian American man; popular, better looking, tall, smart, and rich. Han, although not as smart as his cousin counterpart, Virgil, is your typical bad boy Asian American: he smokes, he drinks, and he gets the ladies which is something Ben and Virgil seem to struggle with. Through the contrasting characters, the film represents the infinity of the Asian American manhood.

In popular culture, Ben and Virgil are the representation of what an “Asian American man” would be. Not only are they aiming for the acceptance to a prestigious university, they are unpopular and especially awkward with girls. As the film progresses, we see the stereotypical Asian American high school student meddling in criminal activities; something that people would not suspect from the “stereotypical Asian American man.” As Ben narrated during the movie, their straight A’s were something that helped them never be suspected for the pranks and later, more dangerous activities, that they committed. But why did Ben and Virgil start committing these crimes and scams? By committing these activities, Ben and Virgil showed not only to their high school, but also to the audience, that the Asian American manhood has different identities despite the hegemonic ideology of the Asian American man.

Ben, and his shaky imagined romance with Stephanie, the female lead, is something that challenges Ben and his manhood. Throughout the film, Ben’s interest in Stephanie is obvious, but to Stephanie, Ben was just a friend that she relied on when her boyfriend, Steve, was never around. Without realizing it, Stephanie had somehow put Ben in the castrated role, something that Ben fought throughout the film. Not only did he start committing his low key criminal activities, Ben tried multiple times to show his interest in Stephanie; whether it was taking her to the winter formal, or kissing her at the New Year’s Eve party. Eventually, to further assert his manhood, Ben murdered Steve in the passive aggressive rivalry they had to win over Stephanie. Through Stephanie’s interactions with Ben, we can see the identity of the castrated Asian American man. In the eyes of popular culture, the Asian American man has more feminine qualities in comparison to their white counterpart. Since the introduction of Asian immigrant men in US culture, Asian men were seen as demure and feminine. Thus, in order to prove his manhood and to depict another representation of the Asian American man, Ben takes many actions.

Although Virgil never did have a female interest like Ben did, he showed his ever changing Asian American male identity through other actions. The model minority myth and the stereotype of the Asian American man are seen as entrapments towards these individuals who are not only trying to figure out who they are, but what they are trying to be seen as in the eyes of American culture. In the midst of their criminal activities, Virgil was introduced to the power of a gun. After attending a party where he witnessed Daric taking out a gun to threaten the white jocks, Virgil himself decided to buy a gun. In the following scenes, whenever Virgil’s manhood was threatened by his fellow “mafia” members, he would pull out his gun and reinforce his masculinity. Like his other friends including Ben, Virgil’s goal was to not fit the stereotype of the Asian American high school boy. By performing actions that would not be seen in a hegemonic ideology of the Asian American man, Virgil again shows another possible side to the Asian American man.

In American popular culture, while male white Americans are seen as macho and dominant, Asian American men are seen as the lesser subordinate. Through the story told by Better Luck Tomorrow, Steven Lin was able to fight the popular culture image of the Asian American man. The film was able to question not only the racism in hegemonic ideology, but also to represent the constantly changing identity of the Asian American man.


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