Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Better Days / 少年的你 - Movie Review

The Movie: Better Days / 少年的你

The Director: Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang
The Cast: Zhou Dongyu, Jackson Yee, Huang Jue, Yin Fang, Wu Yue, Zhou Ye, Zhao Runnan, Zhang Yao, Zhang Yifan

The Story: A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations.

The Review:
Bullying is bad. Bullying has always been bad and it's always been a problem especially for the youth of the world maybe since the beginning of humanity. Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang's latest feature takes on this troublesome topic with a narrative that is based on actual events that are seen as a turning point for the Chinese government to take a hard look at how bullying is handled be the school system. At well over two hours and with a very melodramatic pace, there are times where the movie get a bit tiresome although it is definitely worth a watch.

After watching the movie, I learned that Jackson Lee is a popular singer in China and member of the boy band, the TFBoys as well as doing a lo of work in television. I thought his performance was solid and he worked well with lead actress Zhou Dongyu who I have to day is just fantastic in this movie as Chen Nian. I was completely convinced by her portrayal as a young high school student and I only say that because she is in her late 20's and has been acting since 2010. The character she plays goes through a lot over the course of the movie, I mean just about anything you can think of, and the range of emotions she shows was quite impressive.

One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how it follows a person who is being bullied into some really dark places and yet still shows Chen Nian functioning and thriving in some areas of her life. She is determined to pass her final exams with high marks partly because that's what the school system says will lead to success while avoiding shame and partly because she sees 'the failings of her mom and wants desperately to avoid the same fate. I honestly think it would have been more interesting to see this fully explored rather than having to combine it with the love story aspect which I guess has to be in place because it's what really happened.

Another thing the writers and director do really well is in showing how bullying affects all parties and not just those being bullied. There are mental and emotional consequences for what they are doing to people they see as lesser than them and, in some cases, the bullies are doing these things because they feel forced into it by their friends which is yet another form of bullying. Even the main bully I guess we will call her, ends up having issues of her own and you start to understand where she is coming from as well although I think this is the least touched on aspect and could have been explored further to really flesh things out.

All that being said, the story is still effective as a cautionary tell, it is compelling as a romantic coming of age drama, and it is ultimately a satisfying experience once everything is brought to a conclusion. What will stick with me most about the movie is Zhou Dongyu's performance as Chen Nian because of how much life and energy she puts into the character without ever needing her to be sexualized or overly dramatic. There's an authenticity to the character that I think is something hard to nail down especially in a genre that usually begs for over the top dramatics in the world of Chinese cinema.

The Verdict:
Better Days is a good movie featuring a stellar performance by Zhou Dongyu. The movie might be a bit long and the story a bit melodramatic although overall I feel like it's worth the investment. Not sure if the story provides any answers to bullying although it does give good insight into the emotional and mental turmoil it causes and, at the end, there is a nice PSA about what the Chinese government has done about it over the last few years.

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