BETTER DAYS (Shao nian de ni)

(director/writer: Kwok Cheung Tsang; screenwriters:novel ‘Young & Beautiful’ by Yuexi Jiu/ Lam Wing-sum Lam, Li Yuan Li, Xu Yimen; cinematographer: Yu Jing-pin; editor: Zhang Yibo; music: Varqa Buehrer; cast: Zhou Dongyu (Chen Nian), JacksA meaningful but overwrought youth drama about bullying in Chinese schools.on Yee (Xiao Bei), Yin Fang (Yi Zheng, young cop), Huang Jue (Yang Lao, senior cop); Runtime: 135; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jojo Hui; Well Go USA Entertainment; 2019-China-in Mandarin, English subtitles)

A meaningful but overwrought youth drama about bullying in Chinese schools.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A meaningful but overwrought youth drama about bullying in Chinese schools. It’s directed by Kwok Cheung Tsang (“Lover’s Discourse”/”Soul Mate”) and based on the novel ‘Young & Beautiful’ by Yuexi Jiu. Writers
Lam Wing-sum Lam, Li Yuan Li and Xu Yimen blend together a teen romance story around the filmmaker’s background story that’s a severe indictment of the pressure filled China’s gaokao, the national two-day college entrance exams. We see that in the opening scene when a student jumps to her death off a school balcony.

Chien Nian (Zhou Dongyu) is a bright loner high school student who comes from an impoverished home, and hopes to score a 600 in the upcoming gaokao so she can get admitted to any college she chooses. Because she covered the dead girl’s body, she’s targeted by the same ones who bullied the dead girl.

 When questioned about the suicide by the police and telling them about her fears, the senior detective (Huang Jue) offers no assurances he can help and the younger detective (Yin Fang), even if sympathetic, can’t help. The scared girl instead finds an ally in the street punk Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee, pop-star), who is troubled over the injustice of the bullying and acts as her protector.

A tender love story emerges between the unlikely star-crossed couple. In their story,  we observe some upsetting scenes of abuse by the bullies who are not stopped by the authorities.

The concerns of the filmmaker about such widespread bullying is real and that the government does little to stop it, which hit a nerve with the Chinese government. Their first reaction was to stop the film’s release, but, when released for the Berlin Film Festival, the public bought into it and it became a very popular film in China).

The gutty emotional performance by Zhou overcomes the film’s schematic plot.

It might be at times a heavy watch emotionally, but it offers us a dark but realistic portrait of contemporary life for the Chinese schoolchildren. For that reason alone it’s worth seeing.

      Yee and Dongyu Zhou in Shao nian de ni (2019)