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Better Days

(Hong Kong, English Subtitles): This film about bullying is China’s entry for the 93rd Academy Award for Best International film. Nian is a high school student who is under a lot of pressure to perform well in her college entrance exams. Her mother is away a lot trying to earn money selling fake goods to support the two of them. Nian is bullied, sometimes quite viciously, by a group of other girls at school. One day, Nian witnesses Xiao, a small-time criminal, getting beaten by others, and Nian goes to help him. He later agrees to protect her from the bullies. I won’t say too much more, as the two become entangled in events that are best left to their unfolding in the film. I really enjoyed this film, mostly for the interesting cinematography and the chemistry between the two leads. We see their relationship deepen and how that friendship changes both of them. Both are excellent and convincing actors. The cinematography contrasts are interesting. By day, Nian is mostly in school, feeling the predominantly external pressure of her upcoming exams. At night, the images and colors are striking; it is almost as though both come alive and grow with each other in the nighttime. The film is sometimes hard to watch, given the subject, but I was also fascinated to see bullying from the perspective of a different culture. Big thumbs up from me for another perspective on bullying and its effects. (2019; 4 Stars).

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