"Flawed Foreign Movie About Bullying"
What You Need To Know:
BETTER DAYS is a heart-wrenching drama about the effects of bullying in teens and its prevalence within Chinese culture. However, it has an overarching sentiment of hopelessness and despair. Since BETTER DAYS is about intense bullying, it’s a highly violent movie. Also, despite the anti-bullying theme, the movie has a strong Romantic, false religious worldview. In BETTER DAYS, young people’s worth is based on how well they perform in school, and people believe they are reincarnations of the Monkey King, a Hindu demigod.
BETTER DAYS is a Chinese movie with an agenda. It is set in China, 60 days before China’s national college entrance exam. Two girls in Grade 12, Chen Nian and Hu Xiaodie, are studying for this, but Hu, thinking she is not academically up to par, kills herself. Chen must now face her guilt, believing she could have done something to stop Hu’s suicide.
As the story unfolds, the audience quickly realizes Chen is now the new target of the bullies who bullied Hu, and that is why she committed suicide. One day as Chen is walking home from school, she encounters a gang beating up a teenage street thug, Xiao (“Chow”), for money. When they see her, they pull her into the fight and force her to kiss the young man. Later, Xiao meets her and pays her back the money the bullies stole from her and even repairs her phone.
When Chen goes home, she sees her mother, who reveals she is selling illegal goods (face masks) in another part of China to make money. On the run from creditors who want her money, Chen finds Xiao again and asks him to protect her. He lets her live at his place, and a romantic relationship develops.
Meanwhile, the bullies who bullied Hu are now after Chen because she is smart and preparing for the college entrance exams. Chen’s hope is that she and her brother can move to Beijing once she gets into a good college.
When she takes the test, however, the police reveal the main bully is dead, and Chen is the prime suspect.
BETTER DAYS has an overarching sentiment of hopelessness and despair. Another underlying theme is the belief that people are reincarnations of the Monkey King god (this is explicitly stated in one scene). The Monkey King is a devotee and companion of the Hindu deity Rama. Because of their belief about the Monkey King, Chen and other students find hope in doing well in school. One scene has all the 12th Grade students raising their right arms and swearing an oath to “not fail in school, not to disappoint their parents and smile confidently as they strive for success and glory.” Of course, Christians serve a God of grace, and their self-worth is not dependent on how their parents view them or how well they perform in school.
Although the movie is shot in China, most scenes depict the high crime, poverty-stricken side of China. Besides some foods native to China, the movie doesn’t give viewers much information regarding Chinese culture, other than the beliefs about the Monkey King god, and the society’s emphasis on the performance-based value of education. In one scene, a teacher says, “It is us against the world,” and “we will prevail” due to the high test scores of Chinese students. This implies that the world will sit up and take notice once the Chinese people have proven they are smarter than everyone else. Of course, in Christianity, it’s not your intelligence that counts but your faith in Jesus and your values, which are a gift form God.
Since BETTER DAYS is about intense bullying, it’s a highly violent movie, with several scenes of gangs and bullies beating up innocent victims and themes of suicide. In one scene, the lead female character is stripped of her clothing as some bullies beat her up. Nudity is only implied, not shown, however. Despite the anti-bullying theme, BETTER DAYS has a strong Romantic, false religious worldview where young people’s worth are based on how well they perform in school, and people believe they are reincarnations of the Monkey King god.