Director: Ajay Naidu
Country/Year: US, 2010
Running Time: 77 mins
Language: In English
Movie 2: "Better Luck Tomorrow" by Justin Lin, 99 min, narrative, 2002
My thesis is that Asian Americans are depicted as the bad guys in several films and this is the stereotype which emerges from these films albeit with a positive stance.
The first film focuses on ashes (which is short for Ashish) who is a small time New York City pot dealer. Apart from also being a caregiver for his mentally ill brother he also dabbles heavily in further drug dealing as the film goes by. Unfortunately he gets drawn much deeper into the underworld of heroin and further drugs with the dank underworld of New York serviving as what one may term as an ideal backdrop to proceedings. The film also examines the bond between both brothers who continually face harrowing situations. Kartik’s girlfriend Bettina also comes into the fray considerably.
The film is shot entirely on location in New York, and is an intriguing debut which conveys the realism of Ashes’ world under Naidu’s assured direction and smoky palette. The score is also very powerful and meaningful.
In the first film, Asian-Americans are clearly painted as the bad guys without much descriptive leeway and also without much hope in an uncertain future. However they are also depicting themselves as having some sort of future in this regard with several opportunities in the drug dealing field. Notwithstanding all this, there are parallels which one can make with the second film which is perhaps also full of identity definitions for the said Asian Americans who are intrinsically suffering from ostracization and also pain combined with a crisis of identity.
Consider for example the character of Ashes who is a small time New York City pot dealer. He manages to combine his rather shady day job with caring for his mentally ill older brother. This shows that asian Americans are not only the stereotypical minority who are only interested in making money on the side but can also be empathic and caring towards their brethren who are suffering. This touching observation is clearly portrayed in the film which also moves forward at a fast pace with Ashes and his brother Kartik descending continuously into the netherworld of drug dealing and other similar problems and issues. It is a truly powerful film and the fact that it is shot on location in New York continues to add to its allure.
In Better Luck Tomorrow we are perhaps faced with the same dilemma albeit on a different landscape. All develops accordingly through a set of prisms and we observe several life cycles in this regard. The contrast with ashes and his variously flippant lifestyle is perhaps greater than one could imagine but life does seem to go on in a rather different way here. The second film features much more of a positive outlook towards life which is not always a bed of roses but which offers considerable opportunities for actual expansion and happiness.
I would say that ‘Better Luck Tomorrow’ is not the archetypical film which requires further viewing but it does depict the intrinsic problems which hamper Asian Americans in their development and life ahead. Here we also have the challenges faced by Filipino Americans which are perhaps even more complex in this day and age as the extreme poverty of these Filipinos is something which has to be touched to be believed and it is actually real poverty. However through this film, one can also view the considerable opportunities which may come around for Asian Americans if they actually play their cards right. This includes the possibility of having a good business, opening up new stores and attracting ever more of their countrymen to the US.
The problems facing ashes however will definitely not go away so easily. These are constants and are hugely difficult but through this film they are portrayed in a light where perhaps everything can be arranged in the long run. This is a film which rivets from the word go and which demonstrates that there is indeed life after a bad experience. You just have to pick yourself up and start again after facing off to your problems.
The Asian American experience continues to pale into insignificance in the second film which focuses on the rather appalling life of Asian Americans. In her excellent article, Making Their Own Luck, Bernice Yeung talks about the challenges faced by Asian Americans in this regard and one can also appreciate that these are definitely passing through a rough time while faced with the huge problems of their past and their adaptation into society. This cannot be portrayed better through any other medium than film which has the uncanny power to shock and awe as well as to move ahead when faced with such an anomalous situation.
Peter X. Feng; Search Of Asian American Cinema, 2011
Jeff Chang; Flipping The Script 2010
Bob Graham; Filipino Americans Finding A Forum, 2011
Lindsey Jang; Through the Mirror, Sideways, documentary, 90 min., streaming online through September 30
Bernice Yeung; Making Their Own "Luck, 2010
Oliver Wang; The Sundance Kid, 2011
Ryan J. Downey; Better Luck Tomorrow, MTV.com, 2009