This much-hyped indie film about a group of affluent, college-bound Asian-American teenagers who get sucked into a life of crime plays out like a junior version of GoodFellas. It's still entertaining, especially for anybody who knew the National Honor Society kids back in high school. You know the type: speech and debate team, Academic Decathlon, all that business. Perhaps it's a uniquely Californian phenomenon – Better Luck Tomorrow takes place in the SoCal suburbs – but seemingly 90% of the kids in this crowd are Asian or Asian-American, driven hard by their parents to get themselves into the country's top universities. Writer/director Lin must have been involved with these people too, because he depicts this world expertly, with great and often hilarious attention to detail.
But aside from that, Better Luck Tomorrow is nothing spectacular.
Lin does a lot with his budget (reportedly about $250,000), but it still feels rough around the edges, lacking the flashy stylistics that it seems Lin wishes he could have afforded. And the story points are all familiar, although the pace moves along at a fast enough clip to keep things from getting completely predictable. But the cast is great and the film feels fresh. My biggest complaint is that the open-ended conclusion of the story is annoyingly mannered. Nevertheless, this is good offbeat stuff, and Lin is a director to watch for.