By having a predominantly Asian American cast, Better Luck Tomorrow (BLT) uses the discourse of the model minority myth (MMM) to define hegemonic gender expectations. We see the two forms of masculinity with Ben’s passive behavior and Steve’s macho entitlement. When Ben breaks free of castration by killing Steve, he also breaks free of the MMM, becoming an example to Asian American men of how to find agency in the MMM. After all, films are important because they show the population what their expected behavior is…of course, don’t go to the extremes of killing your rival…Additionally, don’t do what Virgil did. Virgil attempted to escape the MMM by having an aggressive façade that was obsessed with sex and guns, which proved to be unsuccessful because finding acceptance into American culture comes from a true transformation or self awareness, as exemplified by Ben, of aggressive masculinity.
The MMM was established early in the movie when Ben says, “Our straight A’s were our alibis, our passports to freedom. As long as our grades were there, we were trusted.” The straight A’s represented intelligence, which is an aspect that is valued in America. With the Asian American group of boys culturally accepted under the conditions of their grades, nobody thought they were capable of acting out. I believe director Justin Lin used this explicit statement to show how the upcoming events in his film address the MMM from his perspective. As for myself, I chose to analyze Virgil’s failures rather than Ben’s success because I find that negative results are just as valuable as positive results.
Virgil’s obsession with sex unsuccessfully addressed the MMM because at the end of the movie, he remained a virgin despite all his hyped up talk. For example, he had the amazing ability to transform an empathetic conversation with his best friend into a sex mission: “Can’t wait to go to college man. It’s like natural selection, every hot chick you meet has got a brain.” Unfortunately, Virgil reached a milestone failure when he scared the prostitute away because he played too rough. It is appalling how he managed not to have sex with a white woman, an aspect of acceptance into American culture, whose job is to have sex. In this scene, Virgil’s aggressiveness of pulling a gun on her, which was his overcompensation in obtaining masculinity, ruined the simplest way for him to get sex. We also see the incompatibility with sex and guns, which are other aspects of American culture especially prominent when this film was released in 2002.
The contradiction between sex and guns created and revealed an internal conflict within Virgil: his desire to be aggressive and his true aggressiveness do not align. The group got into a brawl with a white athlete, and after Daric pushed the victim down (note that Virgil wasn’t even the one to push him down as he got involved only after puking), Virgil attacked and kicked him, encouraging Ben to join. Later we see that Virgil was not as aggressive as he once seemed because he cried, screamed, and needed Daric’s encouragement when holding Steve as he suffocated to death. The rotating camera focused on Steve’s murder. The group gave him a wake-up call because he did not face the same struggles of the MMM or appreciate his privileged position. Even though Steve was an Asian American man, he was so wealthy that he was never seen as castrated like Virgil.
With Virgil failing to reach manhood as defined by the MMM, it was confirmed that any signs of aggression was a façade. He was too confident in himself and his abilities. Virgil was Ben’s sidekick, second in command, and “the little puppy that keeps shitting on the carpet.” I mean, it wasn’t Daric who asked him to be in the cheat-sheet operation and it wasn’t Steve who approached him to rob his parents’ house. Virgil’s ultimate failure was his attempt to commit suicide. Once again, it showed the incompatibility with sex and guns because he called Han under the false pretense of watching some new porn but he really “didn’t have the balls to do it alone.” The juxtaposition of sex and guns emphasized Virgil’s castration as an Asian American man. He also failed to actually die, which would have been the last way to escape the MMM. I believe this was Justin Lin’s subliminal message of how lying to yourself cannot overcome adversity. Back in relation to Virgil, having an aggressive façade portrayed through his obsession with sex and guns led him to never overcoming the MMM and finding acceptance into American culture. Overcoming the MMM is important because it loosens its corresponding hegemonic ideas, like gender expectations in BLT. Asian American men should not have to be macho to feel accepted or feel ashamed if they are castrated or feel ostracized if they are neither macho nor castrated. Sadly, instead of coping with his deeds for the rest of his life like his friends, Virgil continued to suffer, living as a brain damaged vegetable and being trapped in the MMM forever.
- Lee, Robert G. Orientals. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999. Print.
- Better Luck Tomorrow. Dir. Justin Lee. Perf. Parry Shen and Jason Tobin. Paramount Pictures, 2002. Film.
- Parrenas-Shimizu, Celine. “The Marvelous Plenty of Asian American Men: Independent Film as a Technology of Ethics.” Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies. Stanford, 2012. Web.