Dear Friends, Colleagues and Supporters:
FINISHING THE GAME, our new independent film, has been an opportunity to revisit our indie roots and reunite with many in the BETTER LUCK TOMMOROW family. The challenges of making a no-budget film are harsh and demanding, but at the same time, it is filmmaking in its purest form. Clearly, passion on the part of the cast and crew made this film possible. Now we are hoping to share FINISHING THE GAME with you as it comes out in theaters and into your homes.
When BETTER LUCK TOMORROW was released, we showed Hollywood that we are a viable audience. In an industry governed by box office receipts, there is strength in numbers. The turnout for the film sent a clear message that we demand to see ourselves on screen as multi-dimensional characters. Five years later, we are asking for your support again. At this point, we need to demonstrate that BETTER LUCK TOMORROW was not a fluke; we are a vital consumer community that will no longer be ignored. However, out of respect for your time, energy and taste, we don’t want you to come see the film simply because it’s an “Asian American” project. Rather, we want you to connect to the work itself and let the film stand on its own. We welcome you to take a look at the FINISHING THE GAME trailer on our website:
http://www.youoffendmeyouoffendmyfamily.com Among other things, it features a behind-the-scenes look at our journey from BLT to FTG that was made by film student Anson Ho.
We are happy to announce that IFC Films, our supportive partner, will be distributing FINISHING THE GAME. However, this “platform release” is merely an opportunity and, in certain ways, an uphill battle. The lifespan of a truly independent film is determined on a week-by-week basis. Every weekend could be its last.
Through making studio films, I have learned that “word of mouth” is the most important aspect of any film’s release. A big budget movie could buy up every billboard and flood TV with commercials in order to generate audiences. An indie film does not have the budget or the platform to do that. But, the great equalizer is the viewer. Good or bad, every film is ultimately subject to “word of mouth.” It’s simple: if you like the film, tell your friends. And if they like it, they should do the same.
FINISHING THE GAME will open in New York on October 5th at the IFC Center; October 19th in San Francisco and Berkeley; and October 26th in Los Angeles, San Diego, Costa Mesa and Minneapolis.
We are also excited to announce that on October 5th, aside from its traditional theatrical release, the film will simultaneously be available ON DEMAND in 42 million homes in the United States through every cable and satellite TV distributor. This is something we are extremely excited about because it could potentially bring more of us together and build a distribution model for future Asian American films.
By supporting projects with representation and elements that you want to see, you are sending a clear message to the decision makers in Hollywood. If we can get enough people to do the same, then we will truly have a voice. So please share this with your friends and family. Thank you for your time.
note - If this is something you believe in and wish to support, please copy and paste the letter above and email it to all of your friends and family and ask them if they will consider doing the same. Thank you.
Roger, Julie and I drove down to San Diego today to do some advance interviews for the FTG release. I actually attended UCSD for two years before going to film school at UCLA. It was quite an amazing experience for an 18 year old. I got to move out of the house for the first time and was able to really hang out and be an adult, but without all the baggage. As we walked around downtown SD I would point out some of my favorite memories. But halfway through I got some devastating news. The Old Spaghetti Factory had closed down! Back in the day that spot was for special dates. I was flipping burgers to pay for tuition and could barely get by. And eating out was a rare treat. In retrospect it’s quite hilarious. I would save money by making Spaghetti every night. All I needed was a pot of boiling water, pasta, and a jar of sauce. But on special occasions I would take the special lady to eat the exact same thing. Ah, good times…
Why do so many Asian American parents want their children to be doctors or lawyers? I’m serious. I’ve talked to so many people who tell me tales upon tales of their parents’ insistence on those professions. I get it. I know the parents ultimately want their kids to be secure and honorable and blah, blah, blah… Well, I can’t wait until I have kids, because I will do my best to really try to “persuade” them to become a prop comic. Yes, a prop comic. Think about it. Who is the top prop comic working today? That’s right. Carrot Top. The dude’s been working for like 20 years now. Now that’s security. He’s done commercials, films, and headlines for big Vegas casinos. I don’t want to appear like I’m trashing the red head wonder… but come on, I know my kids can at least match his punning skills. What’s harder- to become the world’s best doctor or to become the world’s best prop comic? I don’t know about you, but I’d be one proud papa of the word’s best prop comic.
II was in Tokyo last week hanging out and just exploring the city (mostly through food). I realized it was impossible to get Diet Coke. People just don't drink it in Japan. I asked as many people as I could why Diet Coke is not popular in Japan. And the answer came back the same from each, "why would we drink Diet? If we really wanted to drink Coke we'd just drink Coke." I replied “Well, but what if you don’t want the sugar”. The answer was simple, “if I didn’t want sugar then I wouldn’t drink Coke”. Hmmmm….
Everything I really needed to know about lifeI learned from Magic Johnson. When it's all clicking it should be as smooth as one of the Laker's fast breaks. If it doesn't work out, get another one going.
Need to Succeed
Audiences bring certain preconceptions shaped by two decades of ethnic cinema to Asian American films. They expect narratives and themes to revolve around issues of immigration, assimilation and identity, as filmmakers seek to both contrast and relate the multi-ethnic experiences of Asian Americans to trends in mainstream culture. And with so few Asian-American features achieving wide distribution, filmmakers often face the double burden of creating "positive" representations of their communities while also achieving their own personal artistic visions.
In his solo directorial debut, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, filmmaker Justin Lin presents a strikingly unconventional perspective that marks a notable departure from the identity politics that have characterized Asian-American cinema for 20 years. Armed with a glossy style, Lin has made an independent film that, by employing the tropes of genre moviemaking, somehow manages to recontextualize the Asian-American experience within the larger framework of commercial cinema.
To read the rest of this article, please support Filmmaker Magazine and buy it from your local bookstore.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
By Sean M. Smith
IF JUSTIN LIN's parents hadn't made a pit stop in LA on their way from Taiwan to Paraguay and gotten suckered into buying a fish 'n' chips shop, if he hadn't grown up as just about the only Asian-American in the suburb of Buena Park (and certainly the only one on his school's basketball team), and if he hadn't seen Tucker: The Man and His Dream as a kid and thought, Whoa, he wouldn't be sitting in this Park City restaurant, talking about his film, Better Luck Tomorrow- one of the most hotly debated projects at the festival. But life's full of little twists of fate like that. "I knew this was not a feel good movie," the 30 year old director says, smiling. "We made it, hopefully, to start discussions."
Boy, did it. A hilarious, supercool, and ultimately violent tale, BLT tracks a group of Asian-American teens who decide to score some cash by selling test answers to their dumber peers. As their status in the high school food chain soars, they become addicted to their own buzz, and the cheating escalates into drug-dealing and death. While the film got a raucous ovation at its premiere, it wasn't long before audience members began arguing with its perceived message.
During a Q&A session after the third screening, a white man stood up and yelled at Lin, "Why would you make a film that is so empty and immoral for Asian-Americans?" Before Lin could respond, his young cast, who had been toiling in tiny roles as Chinese-food delivery boys and the like for years, battled back. And then Roger Ebert stood up. Pointing to the man who had lobbed the question, the critic snapped, "What I find condescending and offensive about your statement is that nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How can you do this to your people?!'" As cheers rang out, Ebert concluded: "Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to 'represent' their people."
Lin, oddly, took the whole thing in stride. "I enjoyed it," he said later. "If this [first] guy felt it was important enough to stand up and scream what he believed, that's what it's all about. I wanted him to finish, but people kept jumping in. It was pretty emotional in there." And it would continue to be: The next day, another audience member voiced the same outrage. This time, New York Times critic Elvis Mitchelle rose to the film's defense.
All that heat would seem to bode well for a quick sale, but it had the opposite effect. Although two companies- Lot 47 and Fox Searchlight - did bid on the film, one's offer was deemed too low, and the other asked Lin to consider changing the film's controversial ending. He said no. "At this level, the film is what it is," he says. "If you get it, you get it." MTV Films did, and bought the movie after the festival for just under $1 million. They even signed Lin to direct another picture for them. "They never wavered," Lin says. "We were all blown away by their enthusiasm." But it's been such a whirlwind that Lin hasn't had time yet to celebrate. "I'm just so glad I'm going to be able to pay rent," he says, laughing. He does have his eye on a new Saab, though. "I sold my Ford Ranger, which I really loved, to finish this film. My friend gave me his old car, just to drive around." He can have it back now.
Monday, May 21, 2007
By RICHARD CHANG
The Orange County Register
Justin Lin is standing onstage at the Directors Guild of America, shoulder-to-shoulder with a crew and cast of more than two dozen people who helped make his latest film, "Finishing the Game," possible. The movie has just had its Southern California premiere, and an audience of mostly Asian-Americans is applauding enthusiastically.
Lin is doing the film festival circuit again. It's familiar turf for the director of "Better Luck Tomorrow," one of 2003's stand-out independent hits.
The Buena Park-raised filmmaker is trying to get word out about his new film – a comedy about the search for the next Bruce Lee.
He took the risk of shooting the film on his own without studio financing. When he completed it earlier this year, he didn't have a distributor.
But after a couple of forays in the studio world, Lin feels confident and is returning to his indie roots.
"It did mean a lot for us to go out and do it ourselves," says Lin, 35, who now lives in Silver Lake. "I think, if anything, this project to me symbolizes that I've earned a little bit of independence. It's a big risk – that's the reality. But I want to make a movie that's outside the norm to studios."
• • •
In a short time, Lin has become one of the nation's foremost Asian-American filmmakers. "Better Luck Tomorrow" – an edgy drama about Orange County honor students caught up in a life of petty crime and unexpected violence – was the first Asian-American film to be distributed by a major studio.
Financed on 10 maxed-out credit cards for $250,000, it made $3.8 million in U.S. theaters, according to boxofficemojo.com. The trade publication Variety named Lin one of 2002's "10 directors to watch."
The buzz and success surrounding "Better Luck" led to deals with other studios, including "Annapolis" with Disney/Buena Vista and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" with Universal Studios. The third installment of the car-racing franchise was a blockbuster, bringing in $62.5 million domestically and $95.9 million abroad.
Lin was able to "retire" his parents who had run a fish-and-chips restaurant in Anaheim for 26 years.
And Lin has shared his experiences as an Asian-American filmmaker with audiences at screenings, on panels and in classrooms.
"I like to learn and share all these things that we've learned," he says. "There's no way I could have made the leap alone."
Dustin Nguyen, who plays Troy Poon in "Finishing the Game," calls Lin "the real deal."
"He's a very rare Asian-American in a certain position of influence as a director," says the actor, who made his first big mark in TV's "21 Jump Street" as Officer Harry Truman Ioki. "He goes out of his way to do something positive, to create positive roles in his movies."
• • •
Lin was born in Taipei, Taiwan. He came to the U.S. when he was eight years old and attended Dickerson Elementary School in Buena Park and Cypress High School.
He grew up loving all kinds of movies, including big, overblown Hollywood productions. He recalls watching Bruce Lee's final movie, "The Game of Death," and being totally confused by Lee's stand-ins, who played the main character Billy Lo after Lee's untimely death at 32.
"I didn't understand who the stand-in was," Lin said. "It made no sense to me. But as I got older, I understood that's movie making. It was the same character, and (Lee) died. It really intrigued me – who was that guy, and how did he get that job?"
"Finishing the Game" is a mock-documentary set in the late '70s. A group of Hollywood executives are intent on finishing "The Game of Death" and aim to find a Lee look-alike. An audition attracts more than 50 aspirants, most of whom bear no resemblance to the martial-arts icon.
The movie stars Roger Fan and Sung Kang, who also had key roles in "Better Luck Tomorrow," as well as Nguyen, James Franco, Meredith Scott Lynn and MC Hammer. It made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and screened earlier this month at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Kang, who has had roles in three Lin movies, said the director has given him and other Asian-American actors roles that "traditional Hollywood would never let us play."
"If I had never met Justin, I would probably not be acting today," Kang said.
Lin has done much to provide opportunities and dispel stereotypes of Asian-Americans in cinema. He blew away the model-minority myth in "Better Luck Tomorrow," and cast Fan as a naval academy student, a non-ethnic-specific role, in "Annapolis."
In "Fast and the Furious," Lin was pleased to create "a post-modern Western with a 3-D cool-ass Asian character."
Finally, in "Finishing the Game," he exposes Hollywood stereotypes of Asian men as silent, sinister or emasculated. In his movie, they're funny, loquacious and buffed out.
"I definitely had to make that movie," Lin said. "You can't expect Hollywood to take a risk. This is not a 'Fast and the Furious' movie. It's a passion project."
Once again, he relied on friends, industry colleagues and independent producers. His buddy Brian Tyler wrote all the funky, '70s-era music, and played all the instruments himself.
"That's the thing I truly enjoy, when you can work with good people who are very talented. There's not a lack of talent, there's a lack of opportunities. My dream would be to do this again, but to pay everybody what they deserve."
Lin and his growing gang have hit the road for this film, screening it at festivals in Chicago, Oregon, San Francisco and Utah.
"If we fail, we fail. I don't want to ever second-guess anything. I feel like I'm just getting started. I guarantee – my best movies are still ahead of me."
After lengthy negotiations, Lin recently learned that the Independent Film Channel wants to distribute "Finishing the Game" in the fall and collaborate on future projects.
This is a huge weight off the young filmmaker's shoulders.
"There's no guidebook on how to be a filmmaker," he said. "I just try to do my best. My journey is my personal journey."
By Justin Lowe
When animated go up against modified street racers this weekend, keep an eye on the career trajectory of s young director Justin Lin.
A filmmaker whos vaulted from a low-budget independent first feature to a summertime blockbuster in just three movies is clearly someone to watch. Writer-director Lins solo debut, 2003s , was a dark, incisive drama plumbing the social depths of wayward Asian-American teens that tore up the film festival circuit and went on to a national theatrical release through MTV Films.
Made for just $250,000,
opened up numerous opportunities for Lin, who ultimately selected a studio project as his second feature, the coming-of-age drama . Released by Touchstone Pictures earlier this year, the film featured James Franco as an amateur boxer struggling through his first year at the U.S. Naval Academy. But Lins career truly shifts into high gear with this weeks release of , the third installment in Universal Studios street racing franchise.
Its been three years since fans felt the jolt of adrenaline delivered by John Singletons , starring Paul Walker as a disgraced cop trying to avoid jail behind the wheel of a customized racer. With , Lin thoroughly revitalizes
franchise, offering a new story, fresh cast and dynamic setting: the world of Japanese drift racing. The result is a postmodern East-meets-Western with enough eye candy and gut-churning G-force to satisfy ardent fanatics and newcomers alike. As an alternative to religious riddlers and reheated superheroes, is popcorn movie of the summer.
Less a sequel than an innovative take on a superbly successful filmmaking formula, largely dispenses with its predecessors characters and plotlines.I wanted to try something brand-new, make it fresh and part of that was to move it away from the other two movies, Lin says.
Drift racing, which, for the uninitiated, seems so visually wacky as to be a CG invention, is actually a real sport that originated on Japans rural mountain roads. Young drivers speed down steep curves by locking their cars rear wheels and skidding precariously through hairpin turns. The renegade sport quickly caught on in the world of legitimate racing, eventually exploding onto the international sports scene.
follows Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), a high school street racer whos sent to live with his military-officer father (Brian Goodman) in Japan after a stateside arrest following a disastrous illegal race. Its not long before Sean discovers the underground world of Tokyo drift racing and quickly loses a heat to D.K. (Brian Tee), the local drift king and a low-level gangster.
Forced to work off his debt to American expat Han (Sung Kang) -- after borrowing and then wrecking Hans Nissan Slivia S15 in the race with D.K. -- Sean becomes totally immersed in the Tokyo underworld. Things really get complicated when Sean hooks up with D.K.s sexy girlfriend Neela (Nathalie Kelley), a student in his high school class, leading to an explosive final confrontation.
What you have here is a Western, observes Lin. Its about a stranger that comes into town, boom, boom, boom and you end up with a showdown. But in Tokyo, where weapons are scarce but attitudes abundant,instead of a showdown with guns, we have cars and drifting against each other, he says.
The directors fondness for his characters and storyline is clearly evident, but in this film Lin has taken a huge leap forward in terms of production value. Lush lighting, precise production design and kick-ass camera work punctuate almost every scene.I really wanted [the film] to be raw, he says. I wanted it to be energetic and I wanted you to feel the engines, to feel the race, to feel the car bodies, Lin explains. And theres lots of enticing car culture on display -- boasts the best variety of cool rides among the three films, with pride of place going to modified Japanese models.
Given the franchises star power, one of the filmmakers biggest challenges was to cast a lead actor in the role of Sean who could hold the screen with authority and authenticity. After a talent search that literally scoured the globe, they selected Black ( ), who plays the central character with a refreshing intensity.
I feel like Lucas has qualities that make a star. The thing about him is that hes truly fearless -- hes not posing or anything, Lin relates. Thats a quality I think you want to see onscreen in your leading man. Opposite Black, Peruvian-Australian newcomer Nathalie Kelley smolders as his forbidden love interest.
Just back from a brief break following the premiere, Lin is busy prepping his next film, a return to his indie roots that will reportedly reunite much of the cast in a satirical 1970s-set feature titled . Lin will squeeze the production into the next six months before taking on the remake of Park Chan-wooks revenge thriller for Universal.
I feel like its been a great journey I went from a credit card movie to a studio movie to a summer movie, and theyre all very different, he says. Its been a pretty amazing trip, especially in four years.
Hang on for Lins next career phase -- this rides just staring to get interesting.
Justin Lowe is a freelance entertainment journalist and Filmmaker Magazine contributor based in Los Angeles.
Current mood: nostalgic
Two thumbs up!
Richard Roeper & Roger Ebert
*********************** REVIEWS ARE IN ******************
EBERT AND ROEPER (APRIL 5, 2003)
TRANscrīpt OF "BETTER LUCK TOMORROW" REVIEW
RICHARD ROEPER: We move on to another movie, which is much better
I think. It's dazzling, it's shocking, it's unsettling and it's called
"BETTER LUCK TOMORROW." Like the Larry Clark films "Kids" and "Bully," it's a piercing portrayal of American teenagers who are for the most part good-looking, smart, funny-- and almost completely lacking in morals. Directed, co-written and co-produced by Justin Lin, "BETTER LUCK TOMORROW" is narrated by Parry Shen as Ben, one of a loosely knit group of privileged Asian-American honors students living in Orange County.
RICHARD: The film starts with the discovery of that dead body and
then goes back to the chain of events that led to a murder.
RICHARD: Karin Anna Cheung plays Stephanie, Ben's lab partner.
They strike up a sweet, but complicated friendship verging on romance.
Now, nearly all the main characters here are of Asian heritage, but
they're also American teenagers who make fun of stereotypes about their ethnic culture. Yeah, they're the smartest kids in school and they have comfortable homes, but we never see their parents, who seem to be out of town or otherwise too busy to realize their kids are soaking in violence, drugs and crime. My only real complaint is an ending that came too quickly, leaving too many loose ends, but maybe that means there will be a sequel, which I'd love to see.
ROGER EBERT: Yeah you know, at one point the narrator says,
"Our straight A's were our passport to freedom. As long as we got great grades, our parents didn't care where we were." And I agree with you,
this is a brilliant film. I think Justin Lin is going to be a leading American director, if he isn't already, because this film is very mature and well thought out. It's not just another American teenager movie and it doesn't have another one of those dumb studio endings. It really goes all the way with this dark material and says these kids are affluent, they are privileged, they get great grades, they live in this wonderful area. But at the same time, they are completely adrift, completely adrift. Success is their only goal.
RICHARD: They almost have too much, too soon. They're bored.
They get into it not because they really need the money, the selling
of the drugs and some of the other crimes; its' because they have
nothing else to do. They've conquered the world of academia, they're
doing fine in sports, they have friends, they have good-looking girlfriends. "So what are we going to do next? Well, let's see what we can get away with." The direction reminds me a little bit of the promise of a young Tarantino.
RICHARD: That kind of thing where it's just dazzling stuff, where
you're saying, " I want to see what this filmmaker's going to do next."
ROGER: The way he handles his camera, the way he handles the actors,
the way he sidesteps obvious points in the plot and surprises us with character insights is very exciting.
TWO BIG THUMBS UP for "BETTER LUCK TOMORROW."
It opens next week. (APRIL 11)
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