Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Dana Harris
April 4, 2013 5:30 PM
19 Comments
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This Video Shows Exactly What We Lost With the Death of Roger Ebert

"Better Luck Tomorrow" premiered at Sundance 2002, four years before Ebert lost his voice to cancer. And the YouTube title sells it short: "Roger Ebert yelling at Sundance."

But, as the clip shows at about 30 seconds in, what a voice it was.

"Better Luck Tomorrow" was the solo feature-directing debut of Justin Lin, who went on to launch the "Fast & Furious" franchise. It's the story of overachieving Asian high schoolers who dabble in some seriously criminal activities.

Shot at the film's third screening, a viewer takes Lin and his team to task at the Q&A: "Why, with the talent yup there and yourself, make a film so empty and amoral for Asian Americans and for Americans?"

As the filmmakers struggle to find the words to form a response, Ebert stands up and leaps into the fray.

"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?'"

And he's just getting started.

This is why we loved him: Not only was he an unparalleled film lover and scholar, but he was fearless and outspoken, without grandstanding. Well done, sir.

 
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19 Comments

  • Jami | April 5, 2013 6:34 PMReply

    Way to Monday morning QB yourself. You didn't remotely project that sentiment in your statement at Sundance and you are currently stepping all over yourself AGAIN trying to circumvent your prior white man's burden-esque question. New cliche , old cliche , your question was cliche and uncouth . There are a lot of amoral movies made and a lot of ridiculous questions asked about them admit you said something that was mildly racist, even in a sort of well meaning way, and move on.

  • jim fouratt | April 4, 2013 9:17 PMReply

    Politically correct? That was not the issue. And it is a cheap shot to filter the discussion in such an easy, boring manner. What Lin did was make one more young male directors version of a QT film of violent male bonding and one dimensional women. This time it was color me yellow. I was objecting not to his right to make a film .. anyone has the right to make a film. The role of the critic is to treat all story telling equally . Was it authentic . Or hallow? I suggest strongly that as well done as Justin Lin's film was and it was well crafted and beautifully performed by the actors... .that is why it was at Sundance and that is why i treated it seriously.. My take was that it told not a stereotypic story but the new easy cliche of rich kids alienated by materialism go to Vegas to role play with out the depth or tragedy of Larry Clark's KIDS .While it may be based on a real life tragedy Lin failed in my view to communicate or nuance his film in a way that gave insight into this. I judge a film first on how well it tells its story, not on who made it . Only after that criteria do other questions come into focus. I asked a question to provoke discussion. Roger cut me off and being who he is got a big round of applause. Too bad it stopped there, because the passionate way roger deflected my criticism also provoked viewer response. Authenticity and humanity still matter to and tempered everything Roger wrote. I like critics who make me think and challenge me. Roger Ebert did this to me and even if I didn't always share his point of view I respected him enough to disagree with him. I have seen the film twice since the Sundance screening. My opinion has not changed. Lin's skills were well used in FAST AND FURIOUS series but a Susanne Bier sensibility he has not. As to Laura Kim .. I will see anything she works with or on .. she has integrity. A couple of times over the following years Roger and I did discuss the film again. Nothing changed.

  • MDL | April 5, 2013 4:34 PM

    Okay, I get it now. You were criticizing the film as a film not as a 'film made by Asians'. You were misunderstood. Fair enough.

  • Tim | April 4, 2013 6:56 PMReply

    Um, Israelis make films that criticize their own involvement in the Israel-Palestine war. And there have been quite a few films that have portrayed Nazis in a sympathetic light. Part of the reason these films don't fail is because first and foremost, the films look at their characters as HUMAN BEINGS. Why can't any community of people examine themselves in a critical light? This is Ebert's argument, and why he is lauded. Asian Americans shouldn't be cinematically restricted to "immigrant suffering stories" where everyone is good, but the system fails them. Also, for anyone to say that the film is unrealistic is ignorant because it is based/inspired by very real events of straight-A high school kids from Fullerton, CA who wound up murdering a classmate of theirs. To say that we let down Asian Americans by contributing this piece of cinema is to ignore the real-life complexities of the Asian American experience.

  • Joseph Beyer | April 4, 2013 5:59 PMReply

    What's wonderful about this story for me, is how it's come back around. I was at this screening as well (working as a junior publicist under the legendary Laura Kim who repped "Better Luck Tomorrow" at that year's fest). The electricity in that room was nothing short of sensational. No one had camera phones yet, no one was Tweeting. The story of this encounter became a mini-legend of sorts until years and years later, this clip quietly ended up on YouTube. As I watch it again, it's remarkable how Roger's spirit holds up, captured beautifully - as fresh watching it now as it was in the Library Theatre. Ebert always had an opinion (which is really what I loved most, not that he was hostile or passionate defending them). He lived, worked and evolved in a curious time when opinions became more and more washed down as the fear of being held to them was instant and scary in our social-media age. Who will carry that role now for us? Who would stand up to defend an unknown Justin Lin and a brave film now? That's the loss I feel most today. The comment from Jim Fouratt here just proves how special and wonderful a man Ebert was.

  • jim fouratt | April 4, 2013 5:58 PMReply

    if you have not seen the film than I suggest you do not have the context to be hyper critical of our public disagreement over justin lin film . FYI...MTV picked it
    up on the spot.. need I say more?

  • Jim Fouratt | April 4, 2013 5:44 PMReply

    I was the person who asked the question of Justin Lin. It was valid then and remains valid now. Anyone who knows me .. and apparently the indiewire editor does not ...knows I will ask a white person the same question if his or her film raises the same issue. Some may recall I asked Quinton T at the New York Film Festival " Why don't you stop the cocaine rants, clean up, come out and learn something real about women." . And today it is clear he took some of my questions to heart . As to this public critical disagreement with Roger. It only made me love and respect him even more. He had what most critics do not. He was passionate about movies and he actually loved filmmakers s ... something we both share. Disagreement is part of being a good critic .. thank you Rogert .... And yes I still think Roger was wrong on this film and asked the wrong question .. and that my friends is life . I will miss him!

  • MDL | April 4, 2013 7:26 PM

    Jim, the problem with your view then [and now too apparantly] is that you seem to want Asian filmmakers to make politically correct films that only show Asians in a positive light. What Ebert rightly points out is that the characters in this movie have a right to be the characters that they are. Hence they are humans wtih character flaws first and Asians second. Minority filmmakers should never feel obligated to make a movie that shows people of their same ethnicity, race, religion, gender, etc in a positive light. That would be a form of PC [self]censorship. That kind of attitude may belong in a 6th grade civics class but not in art. Ebert understood that.

  • jeremy | April 4, 2013 6:01 PM

    Learn how to spell "Quentin T" and that might be the first step to anyone recalling anything you did or said or wrote, Jim.

  • tom | April 4, 2013 5:53 PM

    get a life

  • Dana Harris | April 4, 2013 5:50 PM

    Hey Jim -- Thanks for your response. Really appreciate hearing your perspective and appreciation.

  • Nathan Duffy | April 4, 2013 5:41 PMReply

    Um, no, actually and this is quite idiotic. If a Jew made a Nazi-sympathetic film, Jews and non-Jews alike would rightly accuse them of betraying their people (not to mention plain decency). Hence Ebert's thesis here is categorically false. You thought being publicly indignant and wrong about something was noteworthy.. why?

  • Britney Speer | April 7, 2013 6:18 PM

    Last time I checked, "Nazi" wasn't an ethnicity. Ignoring that ever so minor detail, it's a genius analogy.

  • MDL | April 4, 2013 7:35 PM

    Nathan, who is saying anything about Nazi's and Jews? Are you responding to the video? It's not mentioned there. The video shows Ebert defending Asian filmmakers who made a film that shows some Asian characters in a less than positive light. Ebert's point is that there is nothing wrong with that and that no one would ask that of a white filmmaker. He is correct. Would you say to Scorsese, 'Hey Marty, why are you making negative films about Italians?' No way. Or to your point would you say to an Israeli filmmaker, 'Hey, why are you making a negative film about Israelis?' I guess you might.

  • d | April 4, 2013 7:03 PM

    "nobody would say to a bunch of white filmmakers, 'How could you do this to your people?'"

    "Your people" refers to "white people," obviously. In other words, when was the last time a violent movie was criticized for "betraying the white race?"

    As for why he's being lauded, we don't think he's wrong. You can stop wondering now.

  • Nathan Duffy | April 4, 2013 6:12 PM

    What of it? Evert said "X would never happen" when in fact X very well could easily happen. Again, why is being publicly, loudly atrociously wrong being lauded?

  • d | April 4, 2013 5:52 PM

    WTF? Look at the movie being talked about.

  • Er | April 4, 2013 5:48 PM

    So showing Asian American characters acting in ways that aren't the usual model minotiry portrayal is the equivalent of being Nazi-sympathetic? You're a fucking idiot.

  • Cynthia Reid | April 4, 2013 5:39 PMReply

    Damn Roger...we're gonna miss you!