Monday, March 24, 2003
Still smarting from watching the Chicago-heavy Academy Awards? Need to refresh your cinematic taste buds with product that is free from musical-esque namby-pamby?
Well, have no fear, a friend has reminded me that Better Luck Tomorrow opens on April 11th in select cities, then expanding to more on April 16th. Critics have been raving about how good this film is; the fact that it happens to feature an interesting assortment of Asian American MEN in leading roles is just bonus.
Still not convinced? Here's a letter from one of the actors, Parry Shen.
A CAST MEMBER'S LETTER
What the April 11, 2003 release of Better Luck Tomorrow really means
In our lifetime, it is rare that we bear witness to an event, much less be a part one, that might change society. When the film "Better Luck Tomorrow" opens on April 11, 2003; it will be one of those events. On that day, "BLT" will be released in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. And open the following week, in: Washington D.C., Boston, Houston, Honolulu, Sacramento, San Diego, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis.
The release will set a benchmark for a number of "firsts". 1) It is the first Asian American film ever to be picked up at the Sundance Film Festival. 2) It is the first film ever purchased and distributed by MTV Films. 3) It is the first all Asian-American cast to be widely distributed by a studio in a long time. It is because of all these "firsts" that I am drafting this memo, to shed light on just how essential it is that our community support this film. The first 3 weeks' attendance will determine whether or not we'll be setting a benchmark record for "firsts--and lasts".
I know it sounds extremely self-serving that an actor in the film have the audacity to draft such a plea to see his film. But it is because I have been so close to the film through production and have personally seen people from all ethnicities react so positively to it; that I truly believe this event is exactly what we as a community have been yearning to get behind for years. Whether you are Asian or not. To send a message to the world. It is not "just" a movie. What hinges on the release is so much larger than the film itself.
The power of cinema is colossal. Whether you realize it or not, billions of people shape their outlooks on life from what they see on film. Their beliefs. What is important in life. Differences between right and wrong. And when the world is exposed to the clich�d images of Asians that currently occupy the screen, these images subconsciously encapsulate for them what Asian people are. The martial-artists practitoners. The nerdy students. The exotic sexual prizes. The guy that delivers the food to your door. And it becomes a self-fueling process because audiences continue to pay admission to see them. While unfortunately, these are the only roles that are available for Asian actors to portray.
Fans of "BLT" and major film critics have all praised the film for being an accomplished and engaging universal story centered on teen violence. The film is not a judgmental piece of the actions, but a narrative of how real life teen violence is set in motion. The film represents stories from headlines that we've all read that just happen to be told by Asian actors.
"Best and most provocative--a funny-sexy-scary powerhouse."
- Peter Travers, Rolling Stone Magazine
"Extraordinarily accomplished and thought-provoking."
- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"Stylish and very well acted."
- David Ansen, Newsweek
"The hottest, most stylish and smartly twisted film."
- Duane Bygre, The Hollywood Reporter
"A damn fine movie."
- Harry Knowles, Ain't it Cool News
Phrases, such as how the film "broke all the rules in Hollywood" and "after the first 5 minutes, I forgot that the cast was Asian" are repeated over and over again. For the first time, our true voices are being heard and understood by the Hollywood decision makers. That we're just regular people and we too, have stories that all human beings can relate to. Where we don't have to go around everyday, basically saying, "Hey, I'm Asian" through our actions depicted on screen.
MTV Films' vice president, Michael Cole summed it up best, "You've got a universal story in terms of what these guys are experiencing, and I think that's why people respond to it so strongly. It's told from a perspective that we haven't seen before and that we often don't see." He observes, "I thought ["BLT"] was incredible for our brand and for our audience. When I saw the movie I just said: 'You know, we really need to buy this movie. This movie is what we are.'"
I, as do MTV Films and other studios that bid for the film, recognize that the film is on the cusp of a new beginning in cinema that has yet to be tapped into. Everywhere we've traveled across the country (and Canada) with the film at festivals, Asian audiences thank us for giving them a new voice on screen for the world to see.
But this film needs a base -- legs to help it rise and be heard. And your voice can only be heard through the box office. Let's be frank, for the first few weeks, a majority of the people that will be open to seeing the film, based on face value alone, will be Asian Americans. When non-Asian people see images of the film or the cast, occasionally we hear them ask, "Is it subtitled?" or "Is it like a Jackie Chan movie?"
When I hear those comments, I realize they're not intentionally meant to be malicious, but it goes to show what has been established in the minds of the public when they see Asian faces on a movie poster. And it's that mentality which illustrates the very reason why we need to support good films with Asian casts; whether we agree with the films or not.
I know in my heart that we as a community are large enough of an audience to overwhelm Hollywood; make them do a double take and realize there is a market they have not been catering to. Hollywood's eyes will be tracking the opening of the film very carefully because it loves a trend. So we beat them at their own game--make it impossible for them to ignore the numbers. They will be forced to make similiar projects based solely on a fiscal point of view. They'll jump on that bandwagon to repeat a successful formula that has been established by "BLT." But this will only happen if we want it to by coming out in full force.
In turn, three-dimensional Asian characters that audiences genuinely care about as people and not just as functional props, will emerge and slowly change narrow Asian perceptions. The Black community's current successes in cinema stemmed 20 years ago because they were passionate about the films Spike Lee and John Singleton were making. Films that were true to their communities. Hollywood took notice to the box office numbers and it led to more projects which told of the African American experience besides being a slave or living in the ghettos.
For the past decade, my schooling and acting has exposed me to hundreds of Asian American organizations at colleges across the country. I've been witness to sooo many China Nights, Asian club meetings, ECASU, ACAASU, APEX conferences, panels by Amy Tan, Ronald Takaki, Jude Narita all discussing and theorizing the same topics of assimilation and perceptions--all those years have finally culminated into something tangible: This is that "something" we can get behind and will have a huge impact. And it's a very simple thing to do-- just see the film. That is your vote. Tell people about it and have them do the same.
April 11th 2003, BLT will open in:
New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco
The following week, it will expand into:
Washington D.C., Boston, Houston, Honolulu, Sacramento, San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis
You should be seeing MTV FILMS running our trailer in theatres and playing them on their channel shortly. Based on the box office attendance after the first 3 weekends, the studio will then see if it is worth rolling out into more theatres across the country, the same way "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" did. Once it rolls out nationally, others unlikely to see the film will have then heard the buzz/acclaim and go to just see a good movie. And they will tell others and so on.
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that as many people see the film during those first 3 weekends to get the momentum going. If you do not happen to reside in the initial cities, spread the word to those you know who do live there. And with a bit of luck, it will make its way to your hometown after week 3. If the "I'll wait to watch it next week" mentality occurs with this film, chances are there won't be a next week. Every person helps.
Since this is an unprecedented film, I can see it doing great things in terms of changing the way America thinks and opening doors for similar projects. But unfortunately, I can also see it easily just dying and going away if we allow it, just like we did with Margaret Cho's "All American Girl."
Many planets have aligned for a project with Asian-American lead characters to come this far, and if this opportunity slips away, you can be certain it won't happen again for a long, long time. As I said before, Hollywood loves to jump on a successful formula but it will stay away from a scarcely attended "Pluto Nash" like the plague. If you've read this far, I sincerely thank you for your time. Please pass this letter on to inform others. It's an exciting time for us all. Let's keep the momentum going!
"Ben" in "Better Luck Tomorrow"
Visit www.betterlucktomorrow.com or www.parryshen.com for more details on the film and how to help.
Thanks to AngryAsianMan.com and BetterLuckTomorrow.com for the news.
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