Monday, March 31, 2008

Response to Better Luck Tomorrow

I find Better Luck Tomorrow brilliant. It does an excellent job of portraying characters--whose mischievous/criminal actions are masked underneath their model minority facade--by knowingly using stereotypical images to surprise the audience. Who would have thought after watching the first scene that Ben and Virgil, two Asian students talking about college admissions, are the murderers the person underneath the backyard lawn? Only after watching the rest of the movie do we come to believe that Ben and his model student friends did commit this crime. The framework of the movie is effective--just as other characters in the movie are fooled by Ben's model student facade, the audience does not suspect him to be the murderer (until almost the end) because he appears to be a stereotypical model student.

The movie unearths the true life of Ben underneath his facade: his drug use, his use of prostitutes, and his constant supply of cheat sheets. As Ben says himself, "Straight As were our alibis...as long as the grades were there, we were trusted." Ben and his friends exploit the fact that other people identify them with the stereotypical image, an image that comes with an expectation. Most people expect them to be academic overachievers and nothing else. When Ben is on the basketball team, people don't expect him to be a great player. But this stereotypical expectation allows Ben and his friends to get away with so many things, as long as they prolong that public image.

In one of the most memorable scenes, Ben and his friends hire a prostitute and enjoy themselves until Virgil pulls the gun out. Virgil then points the gun at Han, his cousin and a fellow model student, leading to an ugly fracas. The morning after, they win the Academic Decathlon championship, so their vices are buried underneath this achievement. It seems like the stereotypical image is something to fall back on. 

On a final note, I want to briefly talk about why the audience tend to like Ben. Despite his crimes, the audience cares about Ben because we recognize that he, along with Virgil and Han, carries a sense of morality. He knows that what he is doing is wrong, although the pleasure derived from his vices often makes him forget about the immorality of certain acts until afterwards. The fact that he contemplates confessing of his killing of Steve gives the audience the hope that Ben is still a good man at heart.

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