Note, most of this will be kind of incomprehensible if you have never seen Better Luck Tomorrow.
I think Virginia Woolf said something about the mediocre pieces of a great writer are often better able to shed light on their strengths and weaknesses than their great works. (Most of my books are still in storage so I can't look it up and quote it.) Great works are often too wonderful and complicated, filling us with emotions that aren't really easy to digest and analyze. The Host and Paprika are both movies that I really liked recently and I probably won't have anything intelligent to say about them until I see them 5 times at least.
However bad movies or mediocre movies are something else again. It's easier to judge where they work and where they fall short. For example, last night, I watched Fast and Furious 3, as I recently observed to someone, it's hard to think of a movie #3 that's actually good, The Matrix 3, Rush Hour 3 the same rule can be observed with Fast and Furious 3. Where it worked was that the movie looked pretty good. After seeing two of Justin Lin's movies, it was interesting to see some recurring themes. There's a certain humor about how he approaches high school, and the opening credits were essentially to me a big budget repeat of a similar scene in Better Luck Tomorrow. The soundtrack as usual was slightly different and kind of interesting. Justin Lin also seems to make really good use of the locations he's in. And he takes advantage of Tokyo quite a bit. Visually, and cinemotographically the film looks fantastic. The script has some rather unexpected philosphizing, and as usual, his movies look great. Most of the money was put into the look of the movie, which honestly in a movie like this is how it should be. Lin also likes to put sort of iconic older figures in his movie, so Sammo Hung appears, as does the guy who invented drifting. Their presence does add a certain depth and make the whole affair a bit more interesting.
The downside was the casting of the main character. Actually, in both films, the actor who played the lead was not an incredibly charismatic guy. However Perry Shen's a lot better at conveying a basic range of emotions than Lucas Black, who unfortunately seems to have his mouth hanging open most of the time, and only two expressions. That's not a bad thing necessarily, however he doesn't really have the charisma to make me believe that he's a chick magnet which he's supposed to be. When you're being outshone by Bow Wow playing your snappy black sidekick, you have problems. Another thing that people, notably Oliver Wang, have noted about Lin's work is that women are generally placemarkers or tokens, both as a presence and as tokens of status. The girl is less important than what possessing her means. Again, in a movie like Fast and Furious 3, that's to be expected. What's also interesting is the parallels between The Girl in Better Luck Tomorrow and The Girl in this movie. Both of them occupy a rather ambiguous place in terms of ethnicity. One's adopted, the other one is hapa, raised in Japan. The first time it was kind of interesting. However repeating it just seems kind of lazy. He doesn't want to go to the trouble of defining her character, so making her mysterious and tragic is a lazy way to not go into it much. So chalk another one up to that theory.
In closing, the movie wasn't really all that bad. It wasn't that great either. At least it didn't have Paul Walker.