Better Days (2019)

DEREK TSANG

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

Original Title: Shaonian de ni

/, 2019. , , , , , . Screenplay by , , , co-writer , based on the novel In His Youth In Her Beauty by . Cinematography by , . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by

As Chinese high schools prepare for the annual graduation exams, which will determine the academic futures of millions of students and require a great deal of studying and preparation, some teenagers have even more to worry about than just the pressure of getting a good grade. A young woman commits suicide in front of her whole school, worn down by the cruelty of students who have been bullying her, and the mean girls responsible, led by Wei Lai, turn their attention to another victim. Chen Nian lives with her single mother, they struggle financially and her doing well on the exam will make for a significant change in their fortunes, but keeping her focus on the books becomes difficult when she is frequently being accosted on the way home from school by her bullies who are both verbally and physically cruel to her. One night while walking home she notices a rough gang of kids beating up a young man and tries to help by calling the police, which only brings further trouble on herself, but also ignites an odd friendship with aimless street rat Xiao Bei. The two make a pact that has him guarding her on her walks to and from school, keeping her enemies at bay, but can he be there in absolutely every circumstance when his life on the streets brings vulnerabilities to him as well? The melodrama begins strong and rich in this shamelessly manipulative film, the instant appeal of ’s cleverness and vulnerability in the lead draw you in to caring about her fate and her chemistry with is quickly sympathetic. It soon becomes drawn out and dull, however, with repetitive scenes of its main character being further degraded while stoic in her determination to reach her goal, while adults remain powerless to do anything about it. When our protagonists do decide to take care of business, it leads to a lengthy third act in which police authority gets involved and a shell game of secrets and lies tantalize us until we learn the truth about what happened (and, subtly, the movie reinforces the importance of leaving everything to the police and that it’s the only reason the country runs as smoothly as it does, a theme which could not have hurt with the censors). The overdone theatrics of young people treating each other so poorly make for rich entertainment at first, but it all becomes tiresome by the end and, in focusing on making sure we know every detail of how this reportedly true story turned out, loses control of its emotional centre.

Academy Award NominationBest Foreign Language Film

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