When it is time for the Chinese gaokao, the entire country comes to a standstill. For nearly ten million high school students, this two-day national college entrance exam will determine where and if they get to study. It is not uncommon for the fates of entire families to hinge on the results. Like so many others, Nian has been focused on preparing for the exam, at the exclusion of everything else and is all alone. A classmate has committed suicide and she has become the target of relentless bullying. Meanwhile, fate brings her together with small-time criminal Bei and the two of them seal a pact.
Young runaway thug meets little bullied student. Now, you may be thinking: cliche, cliche, cliche. Well, it may look that way, at first sight. But, matter of fact, the end result is - on the other hand, and by all means - utterly surprising and especially convincing.
Never trite, never simplistic, never needlessly tear-jerking, never rhetorical (with the sole exception of the finale, but we'll get there...). An almost-masterpiece of social conscious drama.
Even though - you know, because of the all-encompassing censorship - the movie has to proceed by "suggesting" and "implying", it still manages to convey an interesting point, in a manner which is never - I repeat, never - dull or silly.
The movie manages to picture a complex everyday reality for an ever-to-large number of students, to picture an oppressing and uncompromising environment, full of every kind of pressure: scholastic, familiar, societal...
Competition at all costs and unrestrained pursue of academic excellence are matched by a society which generally entails full-blown individual oppression. In such a context, there's little room left for hope and little hope left in the possibility of changing things for the better.
Edge-of-your-seat gripping and memorable, "Better Days" crawls you in to never let you go, and as I said it compels you to see and investigate, and not ignore (which is always too easy to do).
You will see with your own eyes what it means to grow up in a strictly hierarchical society, where you are from a very young age "put into the right pace" and "educated" to the most complete abnegation and the most fatalistic acceptance.
Compelled to always be on-the-top-of-your-game, compelled to never fail, never slow down. Because failing is not an option, failing just one test may complete ruin your future existence. Of course, there's consequentially no time for compassion, no time for any kind of distraction, no time to really socialize (and empathize), no time to play, no time to fool around. You must be always perfect. Perfect. Again: at all costs.
I mean, the unbearable pressure which Asian's students have always be subjected to reaches almost paroxysmal levels (for another example of this state of things, I'd strongly suggest you also give a chance to the chilling Korean movie "Pluto", 2012).
By suggesting and implying "Better Days" seems to have been able to elude censorship to some degree. Yes, the finale is clearly false: the last ten minutes or so have most probably been added because of censorship. But - almost incredibly - this finale doesn't really ruin the good work done in the two hours plus before it. Because it's very critical and very hard-hitting, and not by any chance consolatory or reassuring or uplifting, with all due respect to the propaganda agency.
So, in the end, to sum it all up I would say that the movie doesn't make any new point and doesn't really cover any new ground, but it's able to face its topical subject matter with assurance and ability, and great technical gift, as made clear by the excellent directing, the dark gloomy cinematography and great acting (the two protagonists really have a unique chemistry).
"Better Days" is a great movie. Realistic, poignant and thought-provoking. A little gem. Don't miss it.
11 of 13 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this