Just a few years before the late film critic Roger Ebert lost his voice to cancer, he was heard yelling inside a theater to defend an Asian-American film called “Better Luck Tomorrow.”
The 2002 crime-drama film, which was the solo-directorial debut of “Fast & Furious” franchise director Justin Lin, features a story of Asian-American teens who entered a world of petty crime after becoming bored with their lives.
The movie introduced its audiences to previously unknown actors Parry Shen, Jason Tobin, Sung Kang, Roger Fan and John Cho.
During a question and answer session following its third festival screening at Sundance in 2002, an audience member asked director Lin if he thought it was irresponsible for him to portray Asian Americans in such a negative light.
“Why, with the talent up there and yourself, make a film so empty and amoral for Asian Americans and for Americans?” the viewer asked.
Caught off guard, the filmmaker was not able to respond immediately.
Ebert, who was in attendance, stood up and gave his own thundering response: “What I find very offensive and condescending about your statement is nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, ‘How could you do this to your people?’”
As cheers from the crowd drowned out whatever the person said in response, Ebert continued:
“Asian American characters have the right to be whoever they hell they want to be. They don’t have to represent ‘their people!’”
Ebert, who would go on to call “Better Luck Tomorrow” one of his top films of 2003, later wrote in his four-star review of the film:
“’Better Luck Tomorrow’ is a coming-of-age film for Asian-Americans in American cinema. Like African-American films that take race for granted and get on with the characters and the story, Lin is making a movie where race is not the point but simply the given. … Lin, who directed, co-wrote and co-produced, here reveals himself as a skilled and sure director, a rising star. … His film is uncompromising and doesn’t chicken out with a U-turn ending.”