Monkey Dance and Better Luck Tomorrow both challenge the “normal” experience of the Asian American teenager. By adding other voices to Asian American experience, these films expand the way that their viewers think of Asian American teens, which is usually confined to grade-grubbing math and science nerds with poor fashion sense and absent social lives.
The SAT words throughout the movie add an entertaining commentary on the actions/mindsets of the teenagers. In one of the opening scenes of the film, Ben is memorizing the word punctilious: strict attention to norms of action or conduct. The movie challenges the norms of expression for Asian American teens. As a teenager who grew up in suburbia I connected to the experiences of the teens in BLT (Bacon Lettuce Tomato). In high school I also found it thrilling to beat the system and break the mold that I had been place into. I prided myself in high school on being that student who was a varsity athlete, a straight-A-student, an Eagle Scout, and still managed to drink and smoke pot every weekend. While I wasn’t quite a gun-toting gangster in high school or an organized crime lord, I was happy to “have my cake and eat it too.” I just couldn’t see why being smart and college-bound restricted me to such a rigid and boring social life. It don’t know if I resented my parents for placing such high expectations on me or if I was trying to rebel against their expectations, if anything I resented my other friends (both Asian Am and not) in my AP and Honors classes who felt like constrained by the expectations placed upon them and thought partying on the weekends would decrease their chances of getting into a good college.
For the most part my parents were completely oblivious of it all. The few times that they caught me, I would point to my good grades and they usually left me alone. By maintaining my good grades and college aspirations, I was able to create a niche to engage in reckless behavior without consequence. I know very well that buzz of the BLT teens got from their mischief that buzz is wonderful. Is their/our experience a common Asian American experience? I don’t really know. Based on the friends I knew growing up, I don’t think this is a common Asian American experience, but maybe my viewpoint is definitely affected by those same perceived social norms. The Asian American youth in Monkey Dance seemed much less resentful towards what was expected of them. Was this a product of them being recent immigrants or were the experiences of mine and the BLT teens a product of being a little bored growing up in suburbia? For me the take home point of these movies is not whether or not my experience or the experience of either groups of teens is considered a normal experience, but we challenge the concept of a “normal” experience for Asian American youth and provide other AA youth with an alternative life trajectory.