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Asian American Film Home > Features > Justin Lin: Getting Better All the Time

In-depth articles about Asian American film & filmmakers

Justin Lin: Getting Better All the Time

12.27 - Posted by Editor
Better Luck Tomorrow
On the set of "Better Luck Tomorrow"
Justin Lin: Getting Better All The Time
A Sundance 2002 iinterview with the director of "Better Luck Tomorrow"
Interview by Konrad Aderer
     12.27.01 -- Justin Lin ("Shopping for Fangs") makes a triumphant Sundance debut this year with his second feature. "Better Luck Tomorrow," an unapologetic drama focusing on Asian American youth and high-school violence, which will screen (January 12) in Sundance's Dramatic Competition. Konrad caught an ego-free Justin on the phone during a rare lull in the ensuing madness.
AAF   What was the path then that led you to being in Sundance? Were you able to cultivate relationships there?
JL  Honestly, we got pretty lucky. I talk to people and they say relationships this and that - I think that's totally valid. I've also had people say that if you have a really good film, they'll be fair in the end. I'm not sure how we got in. I'm really not good at that...

Official website
Screening January 12, 2001, at the Sundance Film Festival
AAF   (Laughs) Well you must have done something right... "Shopping for Fangs" was shot on film, right?
JL  Yeah, shot 35mm.
AAF   What about "Better Luck Tomorrow"?
JL   35mm.
AAF   So you never had the urge to go down and do a DV?
JL   Actually "Better Luck Tomorrow" was supposed to be a DV film.
AAF   And then what happened?
JL   The one thing our team decided was that we were going to set a date and no matter what, we were going into production. I set it about five months ahead, so once we decided on February, it didn't matter - if I had $100 in my pocket I was gonna take a Hi-8 camera and shoot the film. That was the mentality we went in with. We basically applied for every credit card possible. Life savings, dumped it in - we had a deadline and we were gonna go DV. But what happened was, the script got some good buzz and this guy read it and he loved it and he's like, "Don't do DV, shoot hi-def, I have a hi-def camera. You could have it for free, just defer the pay." So like, "Oh my God, we're gonna jump up on hi-def." But it was still a problem because it was a huge cost on the back end if you're going to ever go back to film.
    So anyway, Fuji somehow heard about the project and loved it; they were gonna give us like 20,000 feet of film for free and they were cutting all the rest of the costs down just because they really believed in the project and wanted it to be a Fuji film. And that wasn't even the end! The end was Kodak heard about it and, honestly, Kodak had this Vision stock that we really wanted. And we went into the meeting and said, "Look, Fuji's offering this and this and this," and Kodak came in the next day and beat that deal. And that was pretty amazing - it went from DV to 35mm literally in a matter of two and a half weeks.
AAF   What's the significance of the title?
JL   "Better Luck Tomorrow" is really exploring the whole youth culture of today, specifically Asian American, but also just the general mentality of teenagers today. I mean, I work with teenagers, I grew up in the 80s, and already it's very different, the mentality. You go to suburbia, you look at upper middle class kids, and through the media they've literally adopted urban gangsta mentality.
AAF   That seems to be pretty much endemic.
JL   Specifically it's very interesting when you put it within the context of Asian American males. I mean, what's more empowering than being a gangsta with a gun? I don't think I'm doing justice to it, but that was the theme that I really wanted to explore, about the fact that you don't have the patience to search for things and so you start adopting things and then potentially this identity could swallow you...
AAF   What are your goals for this film?
JL   On a film level we're trying to explore and raise questions. In the end you want people to talk, not have a film dealing with teen violence and let's go home and have an apple pie. I don't have the answers, I want to start a discourse.
    On a financial level we definitely want to find a distributor. This is actually quite difficult to do but is vital for Asian American films to have because it kind of puts a stamp on it. This is important also because I feel as an Asian American filmmaker the financial resources to make the film are already extremely limited. I want to recoup and make a profit for the investors so they will invest in future Asian American films
AAF   In closing, anything else you'd like to say?
JL   One thing we haven't talked about is learning the ropes. I'm learning every day. I'm getting my ass kicked every day. When you're making the film you feel like a little boxer that's is just in there getting clobbered, you're just trying to stay up…it's a different phase now that we're done. Sundance - I can't tell you how overwhelming it is. The phone is going off the hook - this is the only time I have for the rest of the day. I'm learning how everything works. We can talk more after Sundance and I'm sure I'll have a whole different perspective.


i attend sunny hills highschool, i am becoming a 10th grader, where the hell can i see this movie?

Posted by: Some1 on July 6, 2004 05:00 PM

I loved the movie, and I think that if a white guy can appreciate it, some asain that feels like he's being mis-represented and stereotyped can too...After all, isnt that the whole point of the movie??

Posted by: Alex on February 1, 2004 04:07 PM

It happened in suburban Fullerton, in Orange County, California, back on New Year's Eve in 1992. The multi-ethnic, Asian-American gang members (they were Chinese & Korean) paid a Mexican-American classmate from Buena Park something like $100 to murder Stuart Tay. Apparently, the gang was planning on robbing a computer store in Anaheim, but the plan fell apart when they found out Tay was using an alias & feared he may be a police informant. It was dubbed by the media at the time as "The Honor Roll Murders" because the valedictorian of Sunny Hills High School, Robert Chan, who was to start Harvard University in the fall, masterminded the entire plot. He and his gang of freinds were all on the Honor Roll. They were tried as adults and given life sentences. I remember because I went to school with some of those involved in the incident.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but I plan to. Is the fact that it's based on a true story mentioned in the movie at all? Because if it's not, the writer needs to give credit where credit is due.

Posted by: Dexxa9876 on June 19, 2003 02:44 AM

It seems that Mr. Lin is always conveniently forgetting to mention that Better Luck Tomorrow is a rip off of a true story, and the people involved in the story, that had happened in Orange County about ten years ago. Not to mention that he facilitates negative stereotypes of asian-americans that they are either thugs or nerds, but better yet, in BLT they are both and not just nerds - super nerds who all pack heat. Great job Justin. If I had not known beforehand that a "Justin Lin" had made the film, I would've thought it was made by a man name "Justin Smith."

Posted by: Daniel on May 21, 2003 05:36 AM

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