ASIAN AMERICAN PERSONALITIES
Sense and Sensibility
But let's look at the bright side. Justin Lin is young, unlike most sought-after directors. And his well-groomed brows and sensitively candid eyes make him cute. At the tender age of 33 he has directed seven films, three of them with impressive studio backing. To his credit, he has launched a couple of Asian American acting careers, and broadened the scope of roles for Asian Americans in mainstream movies.
And to think that five short years ago Lin was just another aspiring filmmaker living on oatmeal and camping out on his parents' floor while fleshing out the script for Better Luck Tomorrow (2002), an Asian American high-school drama chronicling those wonder years of cheat-sheets, cheerleader-lust and murder.
We all recognize BLT's protagonist Ben Manibag. He's the quintessential Ivy applicant: 4.0, club president, aca deca member, environmentalist, part-time worker and an athlete. His boredom with suburbia's status quo propels him to enter a petty crime scheme with friends culminating in the murder of his crush's annoyingly philosophical and unromantic boyfriend.
The script's completion was met with industry investor buzz. Not all were cool with the prosect of an all Asian-American cast. Ironically, Asian American investors were among the most adamant in demanding a cast race-change, preferably to caucasian.
“It's probably one of the most disappointing aspects in trying to make this film,” Lin remarked.
In the end, Better Luck Tomorrow was made sans investors for $250,000 from ten maxed-out credit cards and 20,000 feet of free Kodak film. Once the film made it to Sundance, studio execs who couldn't be bothered to return a phone call were frantic to court Lin. At its Sundance screening BLT sparked intense debate. An audience member's attack on its amorality led to critic Roger Ebert's vocal support. Ebert and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it money reviews and accelerated interest in its acquisition. Three companies vied for acquisition rights. Lin accepted MTV's offer though it wasn't the biggest.
“This other company offered more money but they wanted to change the film,” Lin recalls. “I felt that it would be disrespectful for everyone involved in the film to allow this.”
Better Luck Tomorrow was the first Asian American film picked up for distribution at Sundance. And Variety magazine crowned Lin one of 2002's top ten directors to watch. MTV gave Lin enough cash to tie up cinematic loose ends. He added new scenes, tightened the editing and “toned down” the cynical ending. BLT was released by MTV Films on April 11, 2003 in 13 theaters earning an average of $27,752 per location. In its first weekend it turned a profit with its $360,772 take.
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The cast of Better Luck Tomorrow.
“ Making studio movies is kind of like dating a model. It's pretty hot, but, you know, it is what it is.”
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