Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Justin Lin has better luck

The Taiwan-born director was in town last week to promote his newest big-budget film, 'The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift'


Justin Lin made it big in Hollywood with his particular take on issues that affect Asian-Americans.


In a question-and-answer session at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 held after the screening of Better Luck Tomorrow, a film about four Asian-American honors high-school students who get themselves involved in test scams, drug dealing, armed theft and finally murder, a vexed audience member stood up and complained that the film didn't give a positive portrayal of Asian-Americans. Respected film critic Roger Ebert loudly rebuked the complainer by saying such a comment would never be made about a movie featuring Caucasians. The stir instantly put the US$250,000-budget film and its creator Justin Lin under the spotlight.

Fast-forward four years. The Taiwan-born filmmaker directed the eight-figure budget The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift, which is currently on general release.

On his way to Japan to promote his latest film, Lin visited Taipei last weekend for the screening of A Better Tomorrow: Filmmakers to Watch Film Festival (亞洲奇蹟影展) in Xinmending (西門町). Greeting eye-blinding camera flashes with a constant smiles, Lin said: “It feels good to see the theater play Better Luck Tomorrow and The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift at the same time. It makes me see my personal growth as a filmmaker … . I'm living my dream now.”

Indeed, Lin has come a long way from being an anonymous young director in massive debt after maxing out ten credit cards to make the feature Better Luck Tomorrow, the first independent Asian-American film to be picked up for distribution in the US and which made US$3.8 million at the box office.

Moving to Buena Park, California with his family at the age of nine, Lin grew up as a rebellious teenager who refused to be labeled as a silent Asian-American by joining sports team and the scouts. “I am very American, but always feel like an outsider at the same time,” Lin said.

So it came as no surprise when the UCLA film school graduate addressed stereotypes, labels and identity issues in his breakthrough film. What is striking about the movie is that the characters don't explicitly state who they are and where they come from, but are real people who challenge assumptions with their human complexities.

The film represents the three-dimensional characters struggles within the power geometry of the wider societal structure.

Lin is fascinated with identity, be it ethnical, personal or class-based.

Coming from a blue-collar family that ran a fish-and-chip shop in a mall, Lin was initially draw to his first big-budget, Hollywood production Annapolis on a personal level. Even though he lived close to Los Angeles, Hollywood seemed like a world away to Lin, who related to the film's lead character Jake (played by James Franco), a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who fulfills his dream of attending the US Naval Academy. “In the US, we seldom talk about class because we are so preoccupied with race,” the 34-year-old director said.

Lin secured access to Hollywood studio corridors when offers landed on his desk following the Sundance Film Festival, and subsequently honed a reputation as a director that stands up for what he believes in.

“I initially turned down the offer to direct The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift because I found the script offensive and stereotypical as an Asian-American. But the studio people wanted me back and gave me freedom to revise the story,” Lin said.

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