BETTER LUCK TOMORROW
movie trailer (apple.com - quicktime)
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by foroceansblue who says... "If this movie is coming to a cinema near you (stop reading this spoiler!), please make an effort to go see it. Justin Lin and his crew can do with all the support they can get. This is a fantastic movie made with almost no money and no promotional budget, and Paramount needs to see good stats so that future, small indie films like this one will get noticed!"
The movie begins on a nice, sunny day in an LA suburb. Ben (Parry Shen) and his best friend Virgil (Jason Tobin) are lying on deck chairs with the sun beating down on them. Virgil is complaining about how hot it is. Ben stays quiet. Virgil is interrupted by the ringing of a cell phone. Ben checks his, and tells Virgil that it's not his cell phone ringing. Virgil grabs his phone it wasn't ringing either. The two leap out of their chairs and begin crawling along the grass, following the rings.
Soon, the two begin digging frantically into the soil. The ringing is getting louder. Ben and Virgil stop abruptly and we see why, as the camera cuts to what they are looking at: an almost translucent hand, buried in the soil. Ben voices over, "That was the first time I saw a dead body."
We flash back to four months prior to the gruesome discovery.
Ben is working at a fast food restaurant counter, and is patiently helping a customer who is seemingly obsessed with the caloric count of the food she wants to order. As she struggles over her meal, Ben voices over, telling us that the job was easy and it will look good on his college applications.
We soon find out that Ben and Virgil are, on the surface, the perfect Asian American high school freshman. They are extremely intelligent overachievers whose tunnel vision will lead to nothing less than graduating at the top of the class and acceptance to the best Ivy League universities. In fact, Ben takes time every night to learn a new SAT word, using rote memorization and recitation to pound each word into his memory.
We also learn that perfectionism in grades allows them a certain amount of leeway in terms of their other activities. Ben, Virgil and Virgil's cousin Han (Sung Kang) are routinely bored and end up engaging in petty crimes for stimulation. One of their favorite schemes is ripping off their neighborhood computer stores. The three are making quite a pile of cash but it's obvious that money is not the motivator for their activities.
At school, Ben decides to try out for the basketball team. He makes the free throws when the coach puts the pressure on, and the next day, he finds out that he made the team. Not long after, it is obvious to the audience that Ben is nothing more than a benchwarmer: spending game time sitting on the sidelines, ogling at the cheerleaders. Stephanie in particular catches his eye. Ben cannot bring himself to say anything to her, much to the delight of Virgil, who teases him endlessly about it.
One day after practice, Ben is approached by Daric (Roger Fan), the senior valedictorian and another archetypical overachiever and perfectionist. Daric participates in almost every extracurricular activity there is, and is on the tennis team (he never lets anyone forget since he wears his varsity jacket every day). Daric tells Ben that he is writing an article about Ben for the school paper. Ben is surprised and asks why. Daric says the article will reveal that Ben is only on the team because the coach needed a token Asian. Ben is not amused and tries to refute Daric's assertions; but to no avail.
At the next game, Ben sees fully the effects of Derric's article. A small group of students are gathered on the bleachers with posters that deride the coach and the school for engaging in tokenism. Ben is mortified. The coach is too, and with 15 minutes left to play he puts Ben in, much to the delight of the protesters. Ben quits the team after the game.
Later that week, Daric turns up at the fast-food restaurant that Ben works at. Ben is still upset at Daric, who tries to brush off the incident. Ben doesn't let him off the hook, saying that Daric didn't even allow the coach to have his say. Daric replies that he did interview the coach, but the coach didn't say what Daric wanted, so he left the entire interview out. Ben's irritation increases, and does not abate when Daric hands over a piece of paper, offering to pay Ben $50 if he completes the quiz on it by the following day. Ben crumples up the paper in disgust. Daric leaves.
That night, while learning the word "Quixotic", Ben picks up and straightens out the sheet of paper that Daric handed him. He thinks for a moment and begins filling it out.
Turns out that Daric has a bit of a cheat-sheet operation going. He pays someone to break into the faculty offices and steal the quizzes, and sells off the completed tests to students. Ben, after completing his first quiz, has been brought in to his little business. Virgil, spotting the test-for-money exchange between Ben and Daric, asks to be let in on the scam.
Soon, Ben, Daric, Virgil and Han are raking in the money, selling off cheat-sheets. They begin to branch out into other illegal scams. Their notoriety grows and are soon known, for better or for worse, as the "Chinese Mafia". They become the people to go to for things on the black market, and they become the gang to approach if one wants to "get stuff done." They even start dabbling in drugs.
We are reminded, though, that discrimination still exists. One night, the four are at a party thrown by a member of the varsity football team. Just as they were settling in, one of the football players come over and tells them that bible study is in the next house over. Daric is incensed and shoves the player. Other football team members starting throwing slurs at the group until Daric pulls out a gun. The instigator is immediately silenced and tries to apologize but too late. Daric's fist comes thundering towards his nose. Virgil immediately jumps in, continuously kicking the fallen football player. Ben stands dumbfounded, until, at Virgil's insistence, he too begins wailing on the player. Han jumps into the fray and breaks them up as the rest of the party looks on in horror.
Driving home, the four are silent except for Virgil. Tears are welling up in his eyes as he excitedly recalls how scared everyone was when the gun appeared. Soon though, his giggles melt into sobs, as the violence he exacted sinks in.
The next day, the story travels around the hallways of the high school like sparks on a fuse. Ben walks around in a strange bubble, feeling isolated but perversely venerated all at the same time. His day improves considerably when, by a stroke of luck, his biology teacher partners him with Stephanie in lab. She mentions something about him and the Chinese Mafia but he brushes it off without divulging any information.
Later that day, Ben sees Stephanie in the parking lot and gets ready to offer to study with her. He doesn't get very far because Stephanie's boyfriend, Steve (John Cho) pulls up on his BMW motorcycle. The two zip off, leaving Ben crestfallen.
Ben's jealousy of, and dislike for Steve begins building from that moment. Steve is a rich, arrogant playboy who attends a nearby private school. He seems to have everything at his fingertips and is not afraid to flaunt it.
Our gang of four isn't doing too badly either, throwing parties at Daric's house (we find out that his parents are in Vancouver and he lives in their house by himself), drinking, gambling, and doing drugs. In the midst of all this, they manage to pull off a robbery at school stealing a shipment of new computers, and having Han unload it through his black market contacts. Even Steve becomes a customer, paying for Ben's services as a drug dealer.
On his seventeenth birthday, Ben wakes up with a nosebleed from all the drugs he's been using. He decides that he wants out. He calls a meeting and tells the group his decision. Daric surprisingly agrees with him, saying that he was getting bored with getting away with so much. Virgil is the most upset, insisting that he and Han continue fronting the gang. Han agrees. Ben is happy that his friends accepted his decision and is surprised when Daric hands him a box, wishing him a happy birthday. Ben opens the box: his friends bought him a gun. Before he can say anything, Virgil sniggers with glee and pulls out his gun. The group scrambles away from Virgil before he can point the gun at any of them.
Ben happily meets with Stephanie for a study session at a cafe that night. When Stephanie steps away to get a drink, Steve drops by with a proposition. Steve asks Ben to take Stephanie to the class dance. Ben is surprised but soon finds out that Steve is cheating on Stephanie with a girl from his own school. He acquiesces to Steve's offer in the end, but vows not to tell Stephanie the hurtful news.
Ben's friends try to help him take his mind off Stephanie by reminding him that they were off to Vegas, to represent their school in the National Academic Decathlon. Ben agrees to leave his woes behind him and the gang heads to Vegas.
Once at the hotel, Han, Daric and Virgil bring in a prostitute for Ben, who proceeds to quickly lose his virginity. Virgil also wants a go, but upsets the prostitute when he pulls out his gun. She leaves in disgust as the group starts berating Virgil for being stupid. Virgil, in a defensive fit of rage, presses the barrel of his gun to Han's temple. After endless moments of cajoling, they manage to get Virgil to put the gun down. Han storms off.
The weekend ends with a triumph for the team at the academic decathlon, and the group heads back home, putting their Vegas adventures behind them.
Soon after, Ben and Stephanie attend the class dance together, with Ben feeling ever more intensifying feelings for Stephanie and being increasingly frustrated at the futility of his situation. Steve has one more curveball to throw, approaching Ben one afternoon after the dance with another proposition: he wants the gang to rob his parent's house. His rationale? "Everyone needs a wakeup call."
At first, Ben, Han and Virgil are against the idea, saying that they were done with stuff like that. But Daric turns the situation around, saying that this was a prime opportunity to give the rich kid his wakeup call. The three buy into Daric's logic and agrees to Steve's terms. Steve walks them through the blueprint of his parent's house and also asks to buy a gun. Daric, sensing an opening, agrees and asks Steve to meet them later in the week with the money.
They agree to meet on New Years Eve. With Ben acting as lookout, they ask Steve to turn up at one of Daric's buddy's (the same guy who breaks into school for the quizzes) garage. Steve turns up on time and goes into the garage. Once he walks in, Han slams the door shut while Daric and Virgil start beating him up. A flailing arm accidentally hits the light switch and the light goes out, but not before Steve spots a gun falling out of Virgil's pocket.
Outside, Ben hears a gunshot. He curses and picks up a baseball bat. Rushing into the darkness of the garage, he flips the switch on. Steve is just reaching for the gun. Ben leaps in, pounding Steve with the bat. Blood begins pooling on the garage floor. Ben is frozen in shock. Virgil vomits. Daric tries to calm everyone down and almost succeeds until Steve starts twitching. He is still alive.
Daric grabs a rag, soaks it in some sort of chemical and stuffs it into Steve's mouth. With Daric and Virgil holding Steve down, Steve struggles his last. Daric announces that they are going to bury Steve in the backyard. Nobody objects.
Shortly after, the four turn up at a New Years Eve party. Stephanie, who is there, immediately spots Ben and goes over to him. He barely manages a smile but wishes her a happy new year. She smiles back and tells him how disappointed she is that Steve stood her up. Ben tries to say something but can't, and is saved by the countdown to the new year. At the stroke of midnight, Stephanie leans over and kisses Ben. He immediately apologizes, saying that he didn't mean to allow it to happen. But Stephanie tells him it's okay, and she needs to talk to Steve.
The next day brings us back to the scene at the beginning of the movie. The hand is Steve's and the cell phone that is ringing is his phone. Caller ID shows that it's Stephanie calling. Ben and Virgil are too overwhelmed to say anything.
Later that day, as Ben tries to decide whether or not to tell the police, he is called to the hospital. Virgil had shot himself in the head. When Ben arrives, Han is already there, looking shocked. Virgil lies on the hospital bed with a huge amount of bandage on his head. Daric comes in and makes a flippant remark, angering Han. Ben escorts Daric out of the room. Daric starts to panic: what if Virgil talks? Should they get rid of him? Ben looks at him in disgust and walks away. For the first time since the beginning of the movie, Daric looks lost and uncertain.
As he walks home from the hospital, he is intercepted by Stephanie, who drives by in her new car. She offers him a ride. She asks him if he has seen Steve lately. Ben shakes his head no. Stephanie brushes off her worries, saying that Steve is probably up to something and will resurface in a couple of weeks. Ben manages a weak smile.
As the two drive off, Ben voices over, saying that he has no idea what's going to happen next or what the others will do. He just knows that his life has been irrevocably changed, and he'll just have to take it as it comes.
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