Falling Within the Spectrum

In Better Luck Tomorrow the male Asian American students break the “model minority” stereotype by initially engaging in petty crimes and ultimately murder. The characters live a double life representing a dichotomy of the Asian American male stereotype and the opposite, a criminal. While they are all able to maintain their good grades and have a stellar list of extracurriculars, they utilize this image to aid in committing crimes. Instead of simply supporting the stereotype of the Asian American male, the film shows polarizing views of expected Asian behavior, leaving no room for anyone to fall in between, creating an entirely new problem. The film portrays that Asian American males need to encompass or reject all characteristics of their stereotype as the characters ultimately fail to live out their double lives as both model students and criminals.

Initially, the Asian American males in the movie are able to encompass as well as stray from the stereotype by not only achieving high grades but also engaging in small crimes. The movie starts with the character Ben, an Asian American student who memorizes a new SAT word everyday. In line with the stereotype, he gets good grades, participates in extracurriculars, and is shooting for an Ivy League education. He hangs out with his friend Virgil, “the other smart kid” who is also very focused on going to a prestigious college. However, from the very beginning of the movie, it is evident that the Asian American guys are not the innocent and model student that they appear to be. Although they are good students, “straight A’s were their alibis, [their] passport to freedom”. By maintaining good grades, the two guys are able to do whatever without questions from either the school or parents. As a result, Ben, Virgil and Han engage in petty crimes such as toilet-papering people’s houses or other activities that they “couldn’t put on their college application”. Although on paper, or on a college application Ben and his group of friends look to be the embodiment of the Asian male stereotype, their activities outside of school work to combat their stereotypical image. Towards the beginning of the film, Ben and his friends are able to fit the stereotype of the “model citizen” by maintaining good grades but also manage to break the stereotype by engaging in their illegal activities.

Although initially, the Asian American male students are able to live their lives both as a model student and a criminal, ultimately the film fails to portray students outside the polar opposite ends of the stereotype. As Ben and his friends joined Daric, “the senior valedictorian and the president of every club”, their crimes begin to become more serious and they struggle to continue their double lives. This struggle is first evident after Ben and his friends go to a party where they get into a fight with the white jock that makes fun of them for their model behavior. During the fight, Han pulls out a gun as the rest of the guys beat the jock up. Although initially invigorated by the power, Virgil ends up crying afraid that his parents will find out about his behavior. Even though Virgil appears to be overly violent and sexual in the movie, he continually struggles to balance this side with his image as a model student. Similarly, later on in the film, unable to balance schoolwork and normal life with criminal behavior, Han and Ben decide that they want to leave the cheat sheet operations and all other criminal activities to Daric and Virgil. However, this does not last for long as Ben is approached by Steve to commit a robbery on Steve’s parents. This does not go as planned and ends with Ben and his friends murdering Steve, which causes Virgil to take his own life. In the movie, the guys are not properly able to balance their two lives and end up as solely criminals instead of the good students who committed petty crimes like in the beginning of the movie.

Initially, the film portrays a group of Asian American male students who seem to represent the model minority Asian stereotype who secretly engage in petty criminal activities. However, throughout the film, the students struggle to properly balance these two polarizing aspects of their lives. As a result, their crimes begin to spiral out of control as they fail to balance their double lives and at the end of the movie they end up as criminals, and even murderers. Although this ending might seem like a breaking of the stereotype, it also portrays how Asian Americans cannot fall in a spectrum between the “good” and the “bad”. Through the characters struggle and ultimately their failure to balance their polarizing behaviors, the film implies that Asian American males must choose to encompass every part of stereotype or reject all the characteristics of the stereotype and cannot choose to fall in between.

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