Jason Tobin (left), Parry Shen and Sung Kang star as a group of privileged teens caught up in petty crime in "Better Luck Tomorrow."

‘BLT’ is a
delicious event

Grass-roots promotion efforts pay off

"Better Luck

4 stars
Rated R
Playing at Consolidated Kahala, Kapolei, Koko Marina, Koolau, Mililani, Pearlridge and Ward; Signature Dole Cannery, Pearl Highlands and Windward; Wallace Kailua

"The fight's not over yet!" director Justin Lin exclaimed after the initial positive screenings of "Better Luck Tomorrow" last fall. He was referring to what was coming ahead, as MTV Films, with support from Paramount Classics, picked up his film for wider distribution that was to begin in January.

Well, January became April, and after Lin finished filming a couple of new scenes, thanks to financing from MTV Films, the film was good to go.

But Lin and his crew knew they had to do more to promote the film than rely on the usual advertising campaigns. "It's not a popcorn movie -- it needs word-of-mouth support," Lin said before "BLT's" November premiere at the Hawai'i International Film Festival. He said he hopes "Asian-Americans will come out and support it and (it'll draw) a curious arthouse crowd as well."

His wish may be coming true. "BLT's" wider release is drawing impressive numbers since opening in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco theaters April 11. The film had the best-ever per screen opening for MTV Films, averaging $27,752, besting earlier studio openings for "Election," "Original Kings of Comedy" and "Save the Last Dance."

The film's advance through the North American continent continued to 30 more American and Canadian cities the following week and, today, expands to more than 400 theaters, including, at long last, Hawaii.

Originally scheduled to play only at the Art House at Restaurant Row, "Better Luck Tomorrow" will screen instead at all the major multiplexes.

The "curious arthouse crowd" will just have to wait.

Stephanie and Steve (Karin Anna Cheung and John Cho) are the popular, picture-perfect couple -- or so it would seem.

ONE OF Lin's "soldiers" in promoting the film is co-producer and Sacred Hearts Academy graduate Julie Asato. After leaving Hawaii, Asato worked at the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles, where she met and worked with Lin in the media arts department.

Speaking by phone from a stopover in Cambridge, Mass., last Friday, Asato said she and other cast and crew members have been stumping for "BLT" in every major market since March 18. They've been actively campaigning Asian-American and college campus organizations to buy blocks of tickets for screenings.

Despite the film's unflattering portrayal of upper-class, criminal-wannabe A-A male teens, Asato said that "we've not encountered, at all, any negative feedback about the film on this promotional tour. I think people realize that this represents a bigger picture for the Asian-American community, and could potentially open doors for Asian-Americans in the film industry.

"The Boston college kids that came to see the film were so excited and found it very powerful," she said. "Now it's up to them to keep the buzz going."

Reflecting on the journey she has gone through in working on and helping to promote "BLT," Asato said, "I never expected any of this. When I left Hawaii, I never knew anything about the making of movies. It never crossed my mind."

Even though the celebratory parties and accolades have been welcome, Asato said, "We are like soldiers going out to battle -- it's a marketing strategy that we all still need to go all out and do all we can, to prove time and time again that this film is worth the support."

We'll see how the Hawaii "campaign" will fare in the weeks to come.

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