About That Time Roger Ebert Fought a Heckler Over Justin Lin's 'Better Luck Tomorrow'

About That Time Roger Ebert Fought a Heckler Over Justin Lin's 'Better Luck Tomorrow'

Apr 05, 2013

In honor of Roger Ebert, we're reposting this piece from February 22. One of the things to admire about Ebert was that he didn't hide behind a newspaper or a TV show -- he was at the film festivals, in all the screenings, fighting passionately for the films he believed in, sometimes in more ways than one.

One of the things I've always loved about the Sundance Film Festival (and film festivals in general) is just how passionate the audience is. For one reason or another, the folks who wind up seeing late movies at the Library (one of Sundance's many screening locations) are the most outspoken, and not a year goes by where we don't hear some story about a post-screening Q&A that got out of hand when audience members questioned (or, in some cases, screamed at) the filmmakers. 

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One of the more infamous post-screening outbursts to occur at Sundance came back in 2002 directly following the third screening of a film called Better Luck Tomorrow, which introduced the film world to a director named Justin Lin. The crime drama (partly based off the real-life murder of a teenager from Orange County) was certainly unique in that it featured an all Asian-American cast full of characters who were slick, smart, disillusioned and up to no good. This didn't sit well with some who thought Lin's portrayal of Asian-Americans was shallow and disrespectful. One guy took his concerns a step further by grilling Lin and his cast following the film's Sundance screening, to the point where critic Roger Ebert stood up and defended the hell out of it in a moment that proves there's nothing quite like a spirited and passionate discussion of a movie with the audience and filmmakers immediately after it screens. 

You can watch a brief snippet of the argument below.

Thanks to a transcript from FilmThreat, here's what the man said, as well as Ebert's full reply.

Audience Member #1: I’m really depressed from the film. Because, one it looks very good. Two, the actors are very good. You know how to make a movie. But why would you, with the talent up there, and yourself, make a film that is so empty, amoral for Asian-Americans and for Americans. I mean this is a cliché. We’ve seen it too many times at Sundance. Why don’t you challenge yourself to really look inside and see what matters to you and the writers.
 
Roger Ebert: I was on a panel today with Chris Eyre, the Native-American director. And he said, that for a long time, his people, American Indians, had always had to play some kind of a function, like they were the source of spirituality, or the source of great wisdom and they spoke to the trees and the wind and so forth. And he wanted to make a movie that allowed Native Americans to be people. People in some cases who are alcoholics or who are vigilantes, or in prison (music interrupts) And 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?”  This film has the right to be about these people and Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to “represent” their people.
 
Note: There were a number of replies in between these two, and you can read them over at FilmThreat.
 
Better Luck Tomorrow would go on to get lucky at Sundance, becoming the first-ever film acquisition for MTV Films. It also helped launch a very successful career for Justin Lin, who'd go on to find a home with the Fast & Furious franchise, directing Tokyo Drift, Fast & Furious, Fast Five and this year's Fast & Furious 6
 
Lin even found a way to bring one of his characters from Better Luck Tomorrow to the Fast & Furious franchise. Han Lue (played by Sung Kang) in the Fast & Furious movies is indeed the same character from Better Luck Tomorrow. Previously Lin has said that he views Han's role in Better Luck Tomorrow as a version of what the character was like in high school, so in some ways Better Luck Tomorrow is actually a prequel to all the Fast & Furious movies, expanding that universe even further than it's already about to expand
 
As far as Roger Ebert, he continued to stand by the film in his review, saying that "Better Luck Tomorrow is not just a thriller, not just a social commentary, not just a comedy or a romance, but all of those in a clearly seen, brilliantly made film."
 
Below you can watch a trailer for Better Luck Tomorrow, as well as the full part one of a behind-the-scenes documentary that covers the infamous Sundance screening and more.
 



 

Follow along on Twitter @ErikDavis and @Moviesdotcom.

 

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Celia