Ben Fong-Torres takes a look at a spunky new film, and at the equally spunky promotional campaign behind it.
To help promote Better Luck Tomorrow, Parry Shen, who plays one of the central characters, simply went to his computer and sent out scads of e-mails, telling friends and acquaintances how crucial the opening weekend would be for the film. How this Asian-American teenage-wasteland social satire did in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco would determine how its distributor, Paramount, would treat the movie in other markets. And how BLT did might well determine whether other Asian-American-focused films would get green-lighted.
Just see this film, he implored. That is your vote.
I saw it, and am happy to report that BLT deserves the grass-roots PR blitz. It also deserves the rave reviews its piled up since its showings last year at various film festivals, including Sundance. With its mid-April release, the raves have become a mini-avalanche. And I am happy to say that the theater was packed at the 5:30 p.m. showing Dianne and I attended, and that a long line awaited the next screening.
Im especially pleased for Parry, who first wrote me about three years ago, saying he was up for a role, portraying me in Almost Famous, and could he get some tips on how I spoke. We had several pleasant exchanges, and, even after he (and a couple hundred others) lost the part to Terry Chen, he kept me apprised of his career. It was mostly small parts, until Better Luck Tomorrow.
Ironically, he plays a guy named Ben, a high school brainiac who does all the right things -- scoring excellent grades, making the basketball team, joining in extracurricular and community activities -- and allows himself to drift into all the wrong things, too: money-making scams, heists, drug sales, and, ultimately, worse. Its true, as a few critics have said, that Ben Manibag and his gang turn Asian American stereotypes not only on their heads, but are also as amoral and debased as they are driven to excellence and success. Its a conflict with which many Americans are saddled.
I think its fine that these kids, model minorities on the surface, show and even flaunt their dark sides. Havent we had enough of the stereotypes? Isnt there room for at least one film that takes those clichs and messes them up? Especially when its done as skillfully and entertainingly as director Justin Lin, his co-writers, and his cast and crew do here?
With what hes accomplished on a reported $250,000 budget, much of it acquired with a fistful of credit cards, Lin is set for the future. Im hoping the same holds true for other Asian American filmmakers and actors.
P.S. Dianne, my wife, thought Parry was excellent -- but he wouldnt have been a good Ben Fong-Torres. I agree. Terry looked and sounded closer to me. But Parry made a great Ben Manibag, and his future looks to be full of better luck. Just keep those e-mails coming
My alma mater, San Francisco State University, has seen fit to induct me into its Alumni Hall of Fame. Or, as it should be called in my case, the Hall of Almost Fame Im honored, and a little flabbergasted. After all, I basically got booted off campus back in 67 or 68, when I was editing the school paper when it was discovered that I had not officially registered for classes that semester. If, after that scandal, I can be inducted, theres gotta be hope for Pete Rose Had dim sum the other afternoon with quite a gang, including Amy Tan, Lizzie Spender (a writer and the wife of Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna), and conductor George Daugherty (hes part of the creative team behind Sagwa, the childrens show on PBS based on one of Amys books). Amy, youll be happy to know, is wrapping up a collection of her shorter pieces, and then diving into her next novel I got an e-mail the other day from a young man in Taiwan, asking how I felt about the producers of Almost Famous turning me into a Caucasian and having a white actor play me. What? Terry Chen is white? Thatll be news to himand his parents. A few days later, the correspondent admitted that hed seen only the first part of the film, and thought Philip Seymour Hoffman was portraying me, and not the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs. I have heard rumors, however, that Hoffman is actually Chinese ...
A Good Boy
Some people think its silly when people grieve over the death of a pet as if it were a human being. Most of us know better, especially those of us whove been pet owners. Dianne and I just lost Buster, and, just as it was in the early Eighties, when Puppy, our Pekingese poodle, died, we were almost unable to speak about it for several days, especially to family and friends. Unlike most family and friends, a pet dog is with you 24/7, requires your constant attention, is focused on you (even if its for selfish reasons).
In return, you get companionship and devotion. Buster, a long-haired Shih-Tzu, didnt look like a Buster when we gave him that name 15 years ago, but he came to earn it. He was very much his own dog. But he was also our little boy. At 15 pounds, he was easy to carry, which added to the feeling Id have of being with a baby -- one that would never grow. Near the end, we knew his time was about up, but theres no way to prepare for the loss. Just as theres no way not to grieve, to shed tears, to be distracted at all hours by thoughts and memories. As the song says, thanks for the memories. Thanks, Buster. Good boy.
For more insights by Ben, visit his official website at www.benfongtorres.com