(2002) dir. Justin Lin
viewed: 04/21/03 at AMC 1000 Van Ness, SF, CA
This is another one of those diary entries that would have been much better had I sat down to write it more shortly after having seen this film. However, time failed to permit, and thus I will cobble together what I can about this.
Writer/director Justin Lin’s film about Southern Californian Asian-American over-achievers has its moments and its qualities, some of which are located in revealing cliches and stereotypes about Asian-American teens from presumably an inside perspective. The film opens much like a typical popular teen film, with the sort of light humor and “poppy” tone that typifies the genre. What makes the film unusual is that all of the central characters are Asian-American, which ,as trite as it may sound to point out, seems significantly atypical.
Lin depicts the innocuous world of suburban Southern California initially as a bland, neat, and characterless place, positioning the film’s protagonists as very much a part of this world, yet slightly outside of the social structures as well. They are recognizable participants in school functions and society, but in a complacent, peripheral way.
After realizing his placement on the high school basketball team is more of a nod to tokenism than as a result of his inherent value, Ben and his gang begin to recognize their “place” in-but-out of the social structures and begin to actively position themselves outside of the society that they had been so keen to succeed in. They step away from their perceived honor student lives by indulging in “bad boy” behavior, selling crib sheets and ultimately drugs and guns as well. Their tendency to “over-achieve” excellerates their shift toward illegal activities and things quickly get out of hand.
When I first saw the movie, I thought that I preferred the opening half that focused on the characters and their world, rather than their delinquency. But now, a week or so later, it seems to make more sense to me. The kids of this film start out fulfilling their societal roles, somewhat blindly, and only decide to break from them (while still maintaining them) after realizing that their situation in their world is less than what they had thought it was.
In that sense, it’s a dark-ended coming-of-age film. The ending of the film suggests an accepted amorality which didn’t jibe for me, probably because the character of Ben always seemed a little too bland and good-hearted to accept as consienceless. I don’t know.