Justin Lin: after Tomorrow

January 25, 2006


A couple of us (Mike, Stef and I) went to a press screening of Annapolis yesterday. Yay for press screenings! But neither of them wants to blog, so I'm doing a composite commentary -- gleaned from our standing-around review after the movie.

So if we had to describe Justin Lin's first movie after Better Luck Tomorrow in two words, they'd be "safe" and "mainstream." We marvelled at what a solid choice in Hollywood vehicles he made: a Disney film that combines military and sports heroics, with the budget it takes to make the formula work. Watching it reminded me of an article I read in the NY Times a couple months back, where a critic bemoaned the lack of real blazing failures in cinema lately -- because the lack of really ambitious failures also reflects the lack of really ambitious successes.

The major studios have honed the process down to a fair science: good money pays for respectable writing, respectable acting, respectable camera work, etc. And everything happens on cue: the audience laughs where they're supposed to laugh, at gently funny lines; sighs where they're supposed to sigh, at measured moments of emotional catharsis... Annapolis was that movie. No risk-taking, just irrefutable evidence that Justin Lin can make as mainstream a boy-movie (with some romance for the ladies), as the next white guy in Hollywood.

And we (as in, Stef, Mike and I) don't begrudge him that, actually. A man's gotta make a living, and we like him too much (on the strength of BLT) to want to see him fail. So Justin, do what you have to, to make sure that a(nother?) Asian American male director gets a real firm foothold in the industry. But, as Donald Young from the Center for Asian American Media (sponsors of the SF International AsAm Film Festival), mused at the last Third Thursdays panel -- can't say we don't plug our friends -- here's to hoping he doesn't go the way of Ang Lee and Wayne Wang, who both started in AsAm cinema, and then when they made it, never looked back. (All for the amazing thing that is Brokeback Mountain, by the way -- but could we mix it up a little? Take another chance on an AsAm movie now and then, since money is no longer an obstacle?)

So here's to hoping that, one day, not too long from now, Justin Lin takes a risk again, and a risk on us. In the meantime, we're just going to have to sit here and wonder how the man who made BLT managed to follow it up with a movie in which the One and Only Asian Character is a Model Minority of the purest distillation. Loo (played by Roger Fan of BLT -- Daric Loo, there, it so happens) rocks calculus but won't share his answers, rats out his roommate for not following orders to a T, is told "You know how you're gonna die, Loo? Friendly fire" (as a joke, and it's funny, but then in that moment after, more than a little disturbing), is all arrogant and polished but then goes down like a sucker -- and then becomes the Asian sidekick. Hmm.

On the whole, the movie is very cautious in its racial representations -- works hard not to cross any lines. (Which makes the tired Model Minority rehash all the more baffling.) But in the end, the AsAm bit isn't even interesting enough to get worked up about really. So I'm going to hold out for that Justin Lin movie one day where he gives us some more Asian American characters interesting enough for some folks to get pissed about -- and for folks like us to really love.



erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



I hope one day we can all look past "race" and have a true representation of what the world has to offer. Instead of dwelling on an all Asam movie, we should be wanting a realistic movie. With not only Asians, but Blacks, Whites, Latinos, etc etc. Thing is, Hollywood is so bent on making a blockbusters with virtually all white and black casts. We should strive for a multiracial movie.
What type of multi-racial movie you think will change the American attitudestowards film
Good question blackdudinasia... I'm not sure, but something that depicts real life, especially if the film is in a big city, like LA or SF... there is mad diversity, most Hollywood movies fail to show that.
Lately, I like the Independant filmmakers. For example I liked the movie "Saving Face", produced by ALICE WU and WILL SMITH. I think Minority filmakers are not going to find success in the Hollywood cirlce. Indpendent films should be an outlet from the commercialized Hollywood projects. movie goers should not look toward Hollywood if they want diversity, I can name a bundle of good Asian American films that were great movies, but just because the filmmaker wasnt part of the Hollywood circle it didnt get a lot of advertisement, but still a good Movie is a good Movie.