Based on Jiu Yuexi’s book In His Youth, In Her Beauty, the Oscar-nominated Better Days follows Nian (Zhou Dongyu), who is faced with constant bullying from her peers at school. She eventually crosses paths with small-time criminal Bei (Jackson Yee), but before they can retreat into a world of their own they are thrown into the middle of a murder investigation that will change their lives forever.
The film, though visually gorgeous, is a brutal journey as director Derek Tsang paints a a bleak picture of an oppressive society, bullying and youth culture with glimmers of a fairytale love story. During Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees awards-season event, Tsang spoke about how he was intrigued with the book, how the movie is difficult to watch and how he managed to navigate telling such a brutal story but, in a weird way, managed to make it look so beautiful.
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“It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time,” he said of the Hong Kong film, which was nominated for the International Feature Oscar. He added that when they first started writing the script, they sought out to provide an answer to why people bully. But after interviews and research, he said the movie can’t really provide that answer. “It’s part of our human nature,” he said.
From Hong Kong to the U.S., bullying is, unfortunately, a universal issue. The film comes at a time when hate crimes and violence against the Asian community in the U.S. is surging, with no end in sight. Tsang addressed how Better Days connects to all of this.
“It’s all about a lack of empathy,” said Tsang. “That is the core of the issue whether it is an Asian hate crime or bullying. A lot of time it’s the lack of communication or the lack of will to understand each other… that’s really the core issue there.”
Check out the panel conversation above.
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