• Golden Globe Awards

Better Days (Taiwan)

Derek Tsang’s hard-hitting drama Better Days is a gripping impressive melodrama, focused on the bullying of students in a Chinese high school. Chen Nian (Zhou Dongyu) is among the top students in her year despite coming from an impoverished background. She is the daughter of a mother obliged to sell fake merchandise to make ends meet. Chen is just a couple of months away from Gaokao, the two-day exam that will define her future prospects. Focused on achieving the best possible score, she’s mostly cut herself off from her surrounding world until the suicide of her desk mate suddenly make her struggles public. She becomes subjected to cruel bullying that escalates from classroom humiliation to outright assault. Fortunately, following an unexpected nighttime encounter, Chen meets an unlikely protector and boyfriend. Scared and dependent on each other they quickly fall into a mismatched love story.
Tsang, who was born in Hong Kong, always wanted to make a film about bullying and this movie is an adaptation of a novel by the same title. “I think I have been very lucky in terms of my teenage years. I have never really witnessed any bullying in my school, but I had friends, perfectly sweet human beings, that were seriously pestered growing up. It was a mystery to me, why someone would bully them. When social media and smartphones became a world obsession, I was very surprised to see tons of tormenting videos viewed by many and became curious to fathom why people could do that to another being. An important question that kept circling in my mind “how can someone treat other people like that?” When I came across the novel Better Days, I felt I had finally found a story and became passionate to make a film that tackles this bullying issue face on.”
For his research, Tsang watched numerous traumatizing bullying videos online and talked not only with lots of students that were tormented but also spent time with bullies themselves to discover where they come from, what background they have and why they are cruel to others. “I wanted to find an answer to why people bully in the first place,” continues Tsang. “Pretty soon, I realized that there isn’t a simple answer, that it’s part of our human nature.”
Derek Tsang’s sophomore feature has had a rocky journey since its domestic theatrical release was abruptly canceled in June. The censorship hurdles were a direct result of Tsang’s brutal portrait of school bullying and on his emphasis of the pressures of the ‘gaokao’ China’s demanding national university entrance exam. Since then, Better Days has managed to turn its luck around and the movie has since grossed over $217m in China.
Tsang remains pessimistic about the government and educational school system.  “I think bullying is just part of our nature. Sure, people in general are becoming more aware of the problem but I’m afraid people are not going to deter from bullying. Occasionally, I see a video of some poor kids being bullied or beaten up. So sadly, I don’t think we can completely eradicate this issue. I mean, it’s just going to be around as long as human beings are here.”
Better Days also shows how brutal social media can be in amplifying the bullying ordeal, in a truly touching way.