#REVIEW: “BETTER DAYS”
By Mr. Will Wong
Hong Kong’s official entry at the 93rd Academy Awards is BETTER DAYS, from Director Derek Tsang, son of screen legend/TVB Executive Eric Tsang, whose film Soul Mate went on to which much acclaim in his native Hong Kong a few years back. This compelling Adaptation of Young Adult Novel In His Youth, In Her Beauty, tackles the timely issue of bulling and makes a splash in doing so.
The story centers on Chen Nian (acclaimed young Actress Zhou Dongyu) who is on the verge finishing high school and taking her college admissions exams, which could decide her fate and land her a brighter future than the lack of privilege she’s faced her entire life with her mom. One of her classmates commits suicide one day during class and it is learned she was being bullied by her schoolmates. Chen Nian is next in line and crosses paths with a thug named Liu Beishan (newcomer Jackson Yee) who protects her from her bullies, led by Queen Bee Wei Lai (Zhou Ye). Things then escalate romantically between Liu Beishan and Chen Nian who develop a strong attachment to one another, and also violently in the back-and-forth between Chen Nian and her bullies. As exams near, Chen Nian finds herself in trouble as she and Liu Beishan find themselves prime suspects for a crime that could land them in prison for the rest of their lives.
BETTER DAYS is phenomenal storytelling. Despite the Film’s 135 minute run time, we found ourselves drawn-in right from the start and enthralled up to the finish. Tsang masterfully balances the Films’ prominent tones: romance, suspense and in all of this, successfully delivers an education and message about the perils of bullying and what is being done today in China about it. The Film captures the spirit of what it means to be a young person in China today, the pressures they face, in addition to the pressures of the National College Entrance Examination at the center of it all. While much of the Film is gray-hued, there is a warmth that resonates in the power of youth and the love the Film’s two hero and heroine share.
It is impossible not to be affected by Lead Actress Zhou Dongyu‘s sublime performance. She embodies weakness and strength but always unmistakably is Chen Nian. As she gazes across a classroom of students she is teaching English to, we can see a whole composite of her character and her history on her face, and wonder what she is thinking. We are always rooting for her and at times the odds feel as if they are too great to overcome. Chen Nian is unforgettable.
You can rent or buy BETTER DAYS now on YouTube here.