×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Justin Lin’s Early Praise From Roger Ebert

A look back at when the late critic famously stood up for the rookie director

Justin Lin’s feature debut as a solo helmer, “Better Luck Tomorrow,” hit Sundance in 2002. Its subject matter wasn’t too unfamiliar: a group of high-achieving Asian-American high school kids who lead parallel lives of crime.

But like many films at the festival, it drew some jeers as well as cheers. One famous jeer-and-cheer exchange involved the late, great film critic Roger Ebert.

After the film’s third screening, an audience member stood up, praised Lin & Co.’s filmmaking, but asked, “Why, with the talent up there … would you make a film so empty and amoral for Asian-Americans. . .” and asked the filmmakers why they don’t “really look inside and see what matters to you and the writers.”

Oh no he didn’t! Those remarks ignited a heated discussion between the filmmakers onstage and others in the audience — until Ebert rose to deliver what become a legendary smackdown:

“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?’. . .Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever they hell they want to be. They don’t have to represent ‘their people!’” Ebert shouted over swelling cheers from the crowd.

Ebert’s review — he gave it four stars — showed his understanding of what Lin was trying to achieve: “’Better Luck Tomorrow’ is a coming-of-age film for Asian-Americans in American cinema. Like African-American films that take race for granted and get on with the characters and the story, Lin is making a movie where race is not the point but simply the given. … Lin, who directed, co-wrote and co-produced, here reveals himself as a skilled and sure director, a rising star. … His film is uncompromising and doesn’t chicken out with a U-turn ending.”

The clip still endures on YouTube and many indie film websites. A champion of Asian-American cinema, Ebert emerged as a bigger hero to this filmmaking community.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

  • Kristen Stewart

    French Director Olivier Assayas Pays Tribute to Kristen Stewart at Deauville

    French director Olivier Assayas paid tribute to Kristen Stewart, whom he directed in “Clouds of Sils Maria” and “Personal Shopper,” at the Deauville American Film Festival on Friday evening. Stewart received a honorary award in Deauville before the French premiere of Benedict Andrews’s “Seberg” in which the actress stars as Jean Seberg, a French New [...]

  • Liam Gallagher: As It Was

    Film Review: 'Liam Gallagher: As It Was'

    Liam Gallagher is nearly as fascinating a rock ‘n’ roll figure as he thinks he is … which is saying a lot. After the breakup of Oasis, one of the most self-avowedly arrogant stars in pop culture found himself severely humbled, fighting to become relevant again without the help of Noel, his ex-bandmate and, for [...]

  • The Vast of Night

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Vast of Night'

    It’s the first high school basketball game of the season and all of Cayuga, N.M., population 492, is cheering on the Statesmen at the gym. Except for the town’s two brightest kids, Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who are strolling through the empty darkness to their respective jobs as a radio DJ and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content