Better Days: A Melancholic Odyssey of Youthful Desolation – Film Review

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As I sit here, gazing at the raindrops trickling down my windowpane, I can’t help but reflect on the haunting beauty of ‘Better Days,’ a film that has left an indelible mark on my soul. Directed by Derek Tsang, this melancholic masterpiece takes us on an emotional odyssey through the heart-wrenching lives of desperate youths, weaving a tale of pain, love, and redemption.

The film opens with Chen Nian (played impeccably by Zhou Dongyu), a high school student burdened by the relentless weight of societal pressures and academic competition. Her days are a suffocating routine of endless studies, topped with the constant torment of school bullies. In a cruel twist of fate, her tormentor turns out to be Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee), a young man haunted by his troubled past.


‘Better Days’ meticulously portrays the dark underbelly of Chinese education, a relentless pressure place, that transforms its students into soulless beings, struggling to survive the never-ending barrage of exams and expectations. The film delves into the emotional scars left by these unforgiving circumstances, exploring the profound impact of bullying on vulnerable teenagers like Chen Nian and Xiao Bei.

Chen Nian’s life is a quiet symphony of emotional trauma. Her sense of self-worth is obliterated by the constant humiliation and abuse she endures at the hands of her classmates. Tsang skillfully captures the isolation she feels, both at school and at home, where her single mother’s unwavering ambition for her academic success leaves little room for comfort or support. We see Chen Nian carrying the weight of her mother’s expectations like an invisible burden, her vulnerability hidden beneath a facade of stoicism.

Xiao Bei, on the other hand, grapples with his demons. A former dropout and a misfit, he now finds himself entangled in a dark web of crime and violence, seeking refuge in a world that is just as unforgiving as the one he left behind. His involvement in a traumatic incident sets the stage for the unexpected connection he forms with Chen Nian, as they navigate the labyrinth of their shared pain.

As the two lost souls forge an unlikely bond, their emotional turmoil becomes palpable. Each stolen glance and tender touch speaks volumes, as their love becomes a lifeline amid their respective struggles. However, their romance is not a fairy tale; it’s a delicate balance between healing and exacerbating their emotional wounds.

Tsang masterfully explores the depths of their trauma, unearthing the devastating effects of bullying on young minds. The film doesn’t shy away from depicting the harrowing consequences of such abuse, diving into the darkness that engulfs these teenagers. Their shared experiences build a bittersweet connection, as they find solace and understanding in one another, but it’s a fragile respite that teeters on the brink of collapse.

Better Days

The emotional depth of ‘Better Days’ is further heightened by its exceptional performances. Zhou Dongyu’s portrayal of Chen Nian is a tour de force; she embodies the vulnerability and resilience of her character, allowing us to feel every ounce of her torment. Zhou’s eyes become windows to her soul, conveying a sense of raw pain and longing that lingers long after the credits roll.

Jackson Yee brings a sense of wounded complexity to Xiao Bei, making us empathize with the bully as we witness the deeper layers of his suffering. His tough exterior hides a broken spirit, and Yee captures the inner turmoil with a poignant authenticity that is both heart-rending and mesmerizing.

The film’s haunting soundtrack perfectly complements the visuals, accentuating the emotional depth of each scene. Every note seems to resonate with the ache in my heart, heightening the emotional impact of every moment. The haunting melodies, combined with the evocative cinematography, immerse me in the characters’ world, allowing me to experience their pain and struggles firsthand.

One of the film’s most remarkable aspects is its exploration of the intricacies of human emotions. ‘Better Days’ doesn’t simply depict pain and suffering; it portrays the complexities of healing and finding solace in the darkest of circumstances. Chen Nian and Xiao Bei’s relationship is a fragile dance of vulnerability and strength, as they confront their traumas together. Their love becomes a beacon of hope amidst the bleakness, illuminating the possibility of redemption.

Derek Tsang’s direction captures the subtleties of human connection with finesse. Each scene is crafted with care, allowing the characters’ emotions to take centre stage. The film doesn’t rely on grand gestures or clichéd tropes; instead, it embraces the power of silence and unspoken words, drawing us deeper into the characters’ internal struggles.

As ‘Better Days’ unfolds, it forces us to confront the harsh realities of the world we live in. It holds up a mirror to the society that often turns a blind eye to the pain endured by its youth. The film compels us to acknowledge the consequences of our actions and the lasting impact they can have on others, urging us to be more compassionate and understanding.

At its core, ‘Better Days’ is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit. It reminds us that, despite life’s hardships, there is strength in vulnerability and beauty amid desolation. The film’s poetic storytelling draws us into a realm of raw emotions, leaving us breathless and teary-eyed as we witness the characters’ journey towards healing.

The supporting cast deserves accolades as well, adding depth and nuance to the narrative. Their performances elevate the film’s impact, contributing to the overall melancholic beauty that makes ‘Better Days’ an unforgettable cinematic experience.

As the final credits roll, I find myself overwhelmed with a sense of melancholic longing. ‘Better Days’ has left an indelible mark on my soul, reminding me of the complexities of the human experience and the resilience of the human spirit. It’s a film that lingers in the mind and heart long after the screen fades to black.

In conclusion, ‘Better Days’ is a mesmerizing and heartrending masterpiece that shines a light on the emotional trauma endured by desperate youths. With its exceptional performances, haunting visuals, and poetic storytelling, it leaves an emotional resonance that will stay with you for a lifetime. This film is not just a mere piece of entertainment; it’s a profound reflection on the human condition and a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there are ‘Better Days’ ahead.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

  • What is ‘Better Days’ about?
  • ‘Better Days’ is a poignant film directed by Derek Tsang that delves into the lives of two desperate youths, Chen Nian and Xiao Bei. The story revolves around the emotional trauma they endure due to bullying and societal pressures. Amidst their struggles, they form an unlikely bond, discovering the power of love and redemption amidst the darkness.
  • Who are the main actors in the film?
  • The film stars Zhou Dongyu as Chen Nian, a high school student burdened by academic pressure and bullying, and Jackson Yee as Xiao Bei, a troubled young man with a haunting past. Both actors deliver exceptional performances, bringing depth and authenticity to their characters.
  • Is ‘Better Days’ a romantic film?
  • While ‘Better Days’ does contain a tender romance between the main characters, it is not solely a romantic film. The story focuses on the emotional journey of the characters and explores themes of pain, love, and redemption, making it a deeply moving and multi-dimensional experience.
  • Is ‘Better Days’ suitable for all audiences?
  • ‘Better Days’ deals with heavy themes, including bullying and emotional trauma, making it more suitable for mature audiences. Parents and guardians are advised to use their discretion and consider the sensitivities of younger viewers before deciding to watch the film together.
  • What makes ‘Better Days’ a must-watch film?
  • ‘Better Days’ stands out as a must-watch film due to its exceptional storytelling, powerful performances, and its exploration of the emotional struggles faced by today’s youth. The film’s haunting beauty and heartrending narrative stay with viewers long after the credits roll, leaving a lasting impact.
  • Does the film have English subtitles?
  • Yes, ‘Better Days’ is available with English subtitles, allowing a wider audience to immerse themselves in the compelling story and appreciate the nuance of the performances.
  • What awards has ‘Better Days’ received?
  • ‘Better Days’ has received critical acclaim and numerous accolades. Notably, it was nominated for Best International Feature Film at the 93rd Academy Awards and won several awards at various film festivals, including the Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards.
  • Where can I watch ‘Better Days’?
  • The availability of ‘Better Days’ may vary depending on your location and the distribution rights in your region. It might be available on various streaming platforms or in theatres. We recommend checking with local cinemas or popular streaming services for current availability.
  • Can you give more insights into the film’s cinematography?
  • ‘Better Days’ boasts stunning cinematography that captures the bleakness of its setting, with muted colours and atmospheric visuals amplifying the melancholic tone. The use of close-ups on the characters’ faces intensifies the emotional impact, immersing the audience into the character’s inner world.
  • Is there a novel or book that ‘Better Days’ is based on?
  • Yes, ‘Better Days’ is based on the novel “In His Youth, In Her Beauty” by Jiu Yuexi. The film adaptation does an incredible job of translating the novel’s emotional depth and themes onto the screen, making it a moving cinematic experience.

Hope you liked the film review of Better Days


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