Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Movie with Abe: Better Days

Better Days
Directed by Kwok Tsang
Released November 8, 2019

Bullying is a scourge that exists everywhere throughout the world, present in different forms and capable of enormous damage to the will and wellbeing of its victims. Typically, it is associated with childhood and the capacity for cruelty that those who don’t fully understand the impact of their words and actions possess. Yet it can persist into adulthood, and the notion that bullies of any age are equally deserving of sympathy and fairness can be even more detrimental than the inciting behavior itself. The devastating and irreversible consequences of such scenarios are portrayed in powerful fashion in Hong Kong’s Oscar-shortlisted submission for Best International Feature.

Chen Nian (Dongyu Zhou) witnesses the suicide of her friend, who was tormented by the same vicious students who come after her, something that only increases and worsens after she is questioned by police about what led her to take her own death. She meets Xiao Bei (Jackson Yee), a man who is also subjected to the violence of others but is determined to fight back. Xiao Bei steps in to be her shadow and protector, ensuring that no one touches her as she prepares to take her college entrance exam. The death of one of Chen Nian’s bullies puts them both on the police’s radar as they pledge to continue to protect each other.

This film is not an easy watch, with what Chen Nian endures constituting physically scarring attacks, not merely verbal abuse or emotional degradation, which are harmful enough in themselves. There is little separation between school walls and the outside world, which serves as the introduction point for Xiao Bei, who is similarly targeted by those who believe him to be weak. Their burgeoning friendship shows Chen Nian, who bravely calls the police before his assailants find and beat her too, that she is able to stand up for herself and fight back in the way that she can to ensure that she is no longer a helpless victim.

It’s that exploration of the way in which Chen Nian and Xiao Bei confront their realities and try to persist despite such relentless misery that makes this film worth watching, and it doesn’t offer any easy answers since their response might also be problematic. Yet a powerful opening message decries the all-too-prevalent plight of bullying lays out a scenario that may be more extreme than most and still less severe than others, spun into a haunting tale punctuated by two very strong central performances that capture the agony and the transformation of that suffering.


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