Teen crime is taken to the next level in Better Luck Tomorrow, one of the best movies of 2003.
Parry Shen stars as Ben, one of the smartest seniors in his school who devotes his time to various extracurricular events to beef up his college resume. His closest competitors are also his closest friends, and together they use their minds for good, and some not-so-good. It starts off with some simple scams but soon escalates to riskier crimes, including robbery, drugs and perhaps murder. As the group of friends turns into the most notorious and profitable gangs in the neighborhood, Ben begins to realize just how far he has sunk. But, is it too late to get out?
Better Luck Tomorrow is one of the most gripping, powerful and engaging films of 2003, by far. A combination of original direction, great acting and an intriguing story, it epitomizes the truth of crime nowadays. Is all the crime committed by inner city, black gang bangers as the media depicts, or are suburban kids just as capable, if not more, of becoming criminals?
The movie does have themes involving suburban crime, intelligent crime and youth peer pressure, but director Justin Lin does a good job of blending these into the background, giving him a large percentage of the time to pursue the character and story depth that makes this movie so good. Shen does an incredible job as a young man who is so smart that he doesn't even know what he's doing, and his innocent confusion as to what is going on can be seen in every scene. Lin also captures a key element of youth, Ben's first relationship, with extreme sincerity. In fact, all of the characters, no matter how flawed they be, have an incredible sense of depth to them.
More than anything else, Better Luck Tomorrow is just a captivating story of youth and crime, and in less than two hours we get to see a group of smart and seemingly innocent kids spiral out of control and lead to murder. In many ways, Better Luck Tomorrow has the same "redeeming" qualities that another highly touted film of 2003, Thirteen, has. It is so engaging because you just want the characters to realize what they are doing and stop, but you know it is going to have to get worse before it gets better.
Better Luck Tomorrow is flawless, and will definitely end up in many Top Ten lists.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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