Better Luck Tomorrow

Better Luck Tomorrow

Infobox Film
name = Better Luck Tomorrow

caption = Never underestimate an overachiever.
director = Justin Lin
producer =
writer = Ernesto Foronda
Justin Lin
Fabian Marquez
starring = Parry Shen
Jason Tobin
Sung Kang
Roger Fan
John Cho
music = Michael Gonzales
Tobin Mori
cinematography = Patrice Lucien Cochet
editing = Justin Lin
distributor = Paramount Pictures
released = April 11, 2003
runtime = 101 min.
language = English
budget = $250,000
preceded_by =
followed_by =
imdb_id = 0280477

"Better Luck Tomorrow" is a 2002 crime-drama film directed by Justin Lin. The movie is about Asian American overachievers who become bored with their lives and enter a world of petty crime and material excess. "Better Luck Tomorrow" introduces Karin Anna Cheung and a cast including: Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan, and John Cho.

The film was based loosely on the murder of Stuart Tay by four Sunny Hills High School honor students on December 31, 1992, in the suburb of Fullerton, California. [. Retrieved on 2008-03-18.]


Ben Manibag (Parry Shen) and his friend Virgil Hu (Jason Tobin) are lying in the sun discussing college admissions. A cell phone ring tone is heard, and the two crawl along the grass, digging into the turf and discover a human hand.

Four Months Earlier

Ben and Virgil are the quintessential Asian Americans, seen as highly intelligent overachievers whose only goal is to gain acceptance into the highly prestigious Ivy League universities. In fact, Ben learns a new SAT vocabulary word every night through rote memorization and recitation. These words act as the dividers between different chapters of Ben’s life. In reality, Ben reveals that he in fact uses his perfectionism in order to act out in other ways, such as toilet papering houses with Virgil and other petty crimes. Part of these activities include the purchase and return of computer equipment with Virgil, and Virgil’s cousin Han (Sung Kang) to earn easy money. Ben is involved in many of the school clubs, all of which are being used to pad his college application. He eventually tries out for the basketball team and makes the team, though he soon discovers that he is merely a bench player. In the meantime, Ben develops a crush on his new lab partner, Stephanie Vandergosh (Karin Anna Cheung).


During practice, Ben is approached by Daric Loo (Roger Fan), the senior valedictorian and the president of nearly every student club. He asks to interview Ben for a newspaper article, asking Ben about being on the team solely due to affirmative action. Ben becomes aggravating at the interview and Daric ends it with some photos. However, the article is soon published, resulting in a small group of students protesting the coach’s tokenism at every game. Both Ben and the coach are mortified, and despite an increase in playing time, Ben quits the team.

Daric later shows up at Ben's job at a fast food restaurant. Daric tries to dismiss the incident, but Ben is still angry. Before leaving, he gives Ben a sheet of paper, telling him that he would receive $50 if he finished it by the next day. While Ben at first attempts to dismiss it, he eventually completes it, giving it to Daric the next day.

Ben soon discovers that Daric is running a cheat-sheet operation. He pays Jesus, another student, to break into the faculty office and steal the tests, then proceeds to sell off the cheat sheets to students. Ben is brought into the operation, as are Virgil and Han. The four of them make a small fortune by the operation.

Meanwhile, Ben has fallen in love with Stephanie. However, he also discovers that her boyfriend, Steve Choe (John Cho), who is rich and arrogant, doesn’t seem to appreciate her. Steve discovers Ben's crush and offers to let him take her to the Winter Formal. Ben is confused by the offer and declines, stating that that is Steve's job. He becomes incensed when Stephanie later confronts him with the knowledge.


Ben soon discovers his life becoming more and more out of control. As a member of the Academic Decathlon team with Daric, Virgil and Han, the practices at Daric's house devolve into drinking parties. The team fails miserably at their first competition, but Ben observes Steve with another girl. Ben later confronts Steve, telling him that he won't tell her his secret, but that she deserves better. Daric later attempts to go on a date with Stephanie, only to discover (to the remainder of the group's amusement) that the date is in fact a double date.

Later, the group, now intoxicated, arrivate at a party, where they are accosted by a football player who mocks them for their perfect image. A fight results in Daric pulling out a gun, stopping the fight. Daric, Virgil and Ben kick the fallen football player mercilessly before leaving the party. Virgil later expresses the rush he felt from the experience, while the remainder of the group observe a gang of cholos in the next lane over. Virgil eventually falls into tears over the possible fallout from the event and the rest of the group is relieved when the gang leaves. At school the next day, news of the fight spreads around school and the four’s notoriety increases. Theories run rampant, including a possible link to the Chinese mafia. They gradually expand into more and more dangerous scams, such as the theft of computer parts from the school and eventually, drugs. They become users themselves, and Ben begins to develop a heavy cocaine habit. They also throw wild parties at Daric's house, which results in their lives running wildly out of control.

Ben, meanwhile, accompanies Steve to a batting cage after selling him drugs. Steve expresses to Ben that he knows he should be happy with what he has, but he’s not. Instead, he feels stifled by the expectations that others have of him. He envies Ben’s freedom to choose his own path, because his own is already set out for him.

On his birthday, Ben wakes up with a nosebleed as a result of his cocaine use. This is enough to scare him into changing his life. He meets the remainder of the group and tells them that he wants to quit. Daric agrees with him, expressing that their operation has become a full time job. Daric presents a present from the three of them to Ben, wishing him a happy birthday, which is later revealed to be a gun. Virgil continues the operation on his own, but without the influence of Daric or Ben, is soon discovered thanks to his own carelessness and bragging. Han is forced to take the blame for the cheat sheet operation and is suspended, but not before he proceeds to beat up Virgil.

Ben begins to rebuild his life, studying hard again and engaging in volunteer activities once more. He also begins to spend more time with Stephanie, who reveals a wild side of her own when she gives him a CD [Music You Hump To] that she shoplifted. Ben gathers up the courage to ask Stephanie to the formal, to which she agrees.

The four leave to Las Vegas for the Academic Decathlon championships. They enjoy the pleasures of Vegas until they are discovered to be underage. Daric hires a prostitute and the group proceeds to have sex with her, with Ben being the first. However, during his turn, Virgil pulls a gun on the prostitute and she storms off. Han berates him, but Virgil pulls the gun on him, resulting in Han angry storming off. Despite the turmoil, the team wins the competition.

Ben and Stephanie attend the winter formal together and continue to get to know each other. During the formal, the two share a dance. However, the situation is made clear to Ben when Steve is seen outside of the formal, waiting to take Stephanie home. Ben expresses anger at his situation, as his feelings are getting more intense, but he is unable to pursue anything more.


Steve meets Ben at the basketball court and tells him that he has information on a possible score. Though Ben is reluctant to re-enter his previous activities, he gathers up the group once more and meets Steve at his home. The group is stunned when they are informed that Steve wants them to rob his parents' house. He refers to it as a wake-up call. Ben and Han are against the plan, but Daric convinces them to participate, saying that this would be the perfect opportunity to give Steve his wake-up call. They agree Steve’s plan and practice constantly. They also agree to purchase Steve a gun.

On New Year’s Eve, the four meet Steve at Jesus’ house. With Ben acting as lookout, Han, Daric and Virgil begin attacking Steve. The lights go out as Virgil’s gun slips away from him. Steve lunges for the weapon and the struggle for the automatic results in it going off. Ben hears the shot and rushes into the garage. He arrives in time to see Steve appearing to win the struggle for the gun and he hits him with a bat. The frustration over his feelings for Stephanie and his own anger at Steve result in Ben appearing to beat Steve to death, stopping only when Han yells to him. The four are stunned at what they just did and get Jesus to agree to allow them to bury the body in his backyard for $300. Steve, however, begins to twitch. Daric soaks a rag in gasoline and, with a tearful Virgil holding him, suffocates Steve with it.

Afterwards, the four go to a New Year's Party, where they each split up. Ben sees Stephanie, who is upset that Steve hasn't shown up. The pair share a kiss at midnight, to which Stephanie tells a apologetic Ben that it is okay.

Present Day

The cell phone ring tone came from Steve’s phone, which shows that the missed call was from Stephanie. Ben debates about whether or not to report Steve's murder to the police. The knowledge of his role in the murder is too much for Virgil, who attempts to commit suicide after calling over Han under the premise of watching some pornography. He survived the gunshot wound, but will most likely suffer brain damage. Daric, who arrives shortly after Ben, makes a flippant remark that angers Han and Ben escorts him out of the room. Daric expresses concern about the possibility of Han or Virgil revealing their secret. Ben simply resolves to do nothing and leaves Daric alone.

With the group now permanently separated, Ben is alone at school. He goes to the basketball but is unable to attempt a shot. On his way home, Stephanie overtakes him in her new car and picks him up. She asks him whether he’s seen Steve lately, and expresses some concern that he hasn't called. However, it is implied that she and Ben will continue their relationship as they kiss. As they drive off, Ben’s voiceover tells the audience that he has no idea what’s going to happen, but only that his life has been changed forever and he’ll have to take it a day at a time.


*Parry Shen - Ben Manibag
*Jason Tobin - Virgil Hu
*Sung Kang - Han
*Roger Fan - Daric Loo
*John Cho - Steve Choe
*Karin Anna Cheung - Stephanie Vandergosh

Awards And Film Festivals

Official Selection - Sundance Film Festival - 2002
Official Selection - Toronto International Film Festival - 2002

Grand Jury Prize Nomination - Sundance Film Festival - 2002
Independent Spirit Awards - John Cassavetes Award Nomination - 2004


In the movie Harold and Kumar one of the Extreme Dude says to Harold "Better Luck Tomorrow" when the Extreme Dudes beat Harold to a parking space.

External links

* [ Official Website]
*imdb title|id=0280477|title=Better Luck Tomorrow
* [ Sung Kang's Website]

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