How do a group of Asian American high school senior boys spend their last year before college? They engage in criminal acts of mischief of course. Well, at least that is the case in Director Justin Lin’s film “Better Luck Tomorrow.” Within this film, Lin had given Asian Americans a different perspective than the stereotypes that are already embedded into minds. While the group of senior boys had already marked off some components of being “Asian” by portraying them as being over achievers and intelligent, Lin incorporates other aspects within the film that warped the expectancy of an “Asian American.” These boys, aside from working hard on the academic aspect of their lives, carry out smaller, or minor crimes on the side. As the film carries on, a large portion of these crimes include distribution of cheat sheets for exams. Gradually, the group expands to stealing computer parts from school as well as selling and even using drugs. This ends up distorting their lives into a heavy routine of criminal acts, as well as alludes to a “Chinese mafia” development. “Better Luck Tomorrow” expresses a subjective view on the ideology of happiness and how money is not a direct reason for happiness, but a component that drives it.
Happiness is very subjective to each and every human being and only oneself can explain and define what ‘happiness’ is to them. Majority of people are familiar with the ‘white picket fence lifestyle’ where a person grasps onto a certain ideal way of living. This is typically associated with the “American” life. Someone who is within the United States, and financially stable, married, have a family, have kids, and everything in their life is running smoothly and perfectly. People holding on to these ideals live a life of denial as the ‘fence’ may be a defense mechanism to shield the mishaps and the wrong that may happen behind that fence.
“Better Luck Tomorrow” portrays a group of boys who find themselves immersed deeply within these activities, which at the same time, rejects the discourse of what Asian Americans stereo-typically known for, but also demonstrates the ways that they as humans obtain happiness. As quoted within the film, there was no limit to happiness, it was “not enough.”
The group of boys had partaken in selling cheat sheets and drugs in order to make easy money. Which interestingly enough, money, arguably, cannot generate happiness. It is capable of fulfilling tasks or needs that can make a human being happy, but it is not the direct link to the generation of the emotion. By engaging in these criminal act, both large and minor, the group gets a ‘high’ (pun intended) from the activity. It may be the idea that it is dangerous, and the risk of being caught by higher officials. But regardless, the act of crime was giving all the boys a sense of achievement. Especially for the main character Ben Manibag. He is a student who thrives at the low end of the social status, and finds out he was only in the Basketball team as a ‘token.’ This character drives the idea that happiness cannot be obtained through money, as he states that “money was not the point.” He found fulfillment in the circle of boys by carrying out these tasks that he was required to do. From abiding to the orders told to him, he found himself at a higher social status, something from which he yearned to break free from since the beginning of the film. Being up there, on top with the guys, breaking rules, gave him happiness and drove his desire for more. He had already obtained the money. He didn’t need more. But he needed more of what came as a result of the criminal acts.
Although Lin embeds the discourse of the Asian American’s stereotypical “academic over-achiever” status within “Better Luck Tomorrow,” he also rejects them by placing the group of high school seniors into delinquency and “turmoil” of their everyday life. The concept that money cannot obtain happiness is expressed and the ideologies of happiness are challenged within this film.