Where Better Luck Tomorrow was intending to highlight stereotypes and show the model minority Asian American breaking away from the expected, it also found a way to strengthen various pre-existing stereotypes. I believe this is done to help the audience (mostly white America) better relate to the audience by having all characters fit into their roles appropriately by falling victim to stereotypes. With the entire cast falling victim to generic Asian American stereotypes, it helps the audience still find the story believable. The basic cast in Better Luck Tomorrow all find themselves fitting into the four generic roles of any typical group dynamic. The underdog/nerd (Ben Manibag), the badass (Han), the jock (Daric Loo), and most importantly the idiot (Virgil Hu). These four roles are fulfilled to show a familiar dynamic with the added fact that they are Asian American. To display that these characters are Asian American, the film set to showcase a few stereotypes throughout the movie; intelligence, overachieving, and the range of athleticism.
The entire core group is demonstrated as being smart or borderline genius. Even the “idiot” in the group is smarter than the average student. Virgil shows multiple times that he’s not a very intelligent person (gun scene – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5yCfavAfr0Y) and proves to be a verbal/physical punching bag for the rest of the group (fitting the role of an “idiot”). However, the writers made it a point early on to show how smart he is by showing him besting the narrator in the Academic Decathlon tryouts. This is an interesting choice to make the “idiot” in the group make consistently dumb decisions, yet the writers (and director) felt it necessary to point out that he is still smart. It just seems odd that they need to show that even the dumbest of the group is still exceptionally intelligent and skilled. As if the cast needs to stay consistent with this positive stereotype.
For more proof of strengthening stereotypes, Daric is chosen as the groups’ token jock. It’s funny that right as this character is depicted as a jock, the narrator is quick to tell the audience that his varsity status was earned through playing tennis. This is displayed as sort of an insult, or that it just came natural to the character. Tennis is not as stereotypical for an Asian American as, say, ping pong would be, but it is the closest thing the writers could have the character be successful in that was not too different from ping pong, yet still capable of being a varsity athlete. Also, with the displaying of his achievement being through tennis, it’s as if they’re admitting to the jock in this situation to be holding onto his “jock-status” by a thin thread. This is an example of the film reinforcing another stereotype of lacking athleticism outside of martial arts. The jock also reinforces the “all Asians are smart” stereotype by being the valedictorian and displaying little effort. Han also demonstrates this stereotype by being a part of the Academic Decathlon team without ever showing any interest in academics or school itself throughout the film.
Now for the main character, Ben Manibag. This character was clearly designed to be the model minority, but then throughout the film, start to break from the stereotypes. However, in trying to break away from stereotypes, it became obvious that the film was trying to make him too rounded. The actor to play Ben (Parry Shen) was not very good at basketball. This was obvious to me by watching his form for shooting the foul shots, but for proof, the director Justin Lin said that he didn’t want to have those typical shots in film where the person would take the shot and then cut to them making it. He actually wanted Parry to make the free throws in a wide camera shot (http://youtu.be/YT2LsWsw0bU?t=8m50s). They said the first day that Parry made 1 out of 10 free throws and that the one that went in was just a lucky shot; showing that the actor might not have the knack for basketball. This was obviously an artistic choice, but why was it so important for the actor to be able to do this? It seemed like every side to this very round character needed to be successful and strive for success. The film wanted to show Ben exceeding/ overachieving in every aspect of his controllable life, but the actor chosen was clearly not very good at basketball. So, why not have the character be bad at sports instead of having the actor train to reach the overachiever stereotype?
Why not have the whole cast be generic high school students? Why is it important for them to be a stereotype at the core of their character?
**I would also like to point out that the amoral story was an excellent choice by the production team since it’s what they wanted the story to be. Just because the cast is Asian American, doesn’t mean that the story can’t go in whatever path any other story might (clip of Robert Ebert defending that same claim – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSzP9YV3jbc)**