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Daily Drip

Bullying Drama “Better Days” Makes Unexpected Comeback from Censorship

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The Chinese internet is currently abuzz with news of a long-awaited, long-delayed release dropping on October 25. No, not Jesus is King, but Hong Kong director Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang’s disaffected youth drama Better Days — a movie that was abruptly pulled from competition at this year’s Berlinale film festival in February due to “technical reasons.”

The film was one of a number of high-profile Chinese productions to suddenly disappear from international festivals and domestic cinema schedules in the first half of 2019, leading to considerable doom and gloom in China’s film industry. Zhang Yimou’s One Second, a piece set amid the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, was also unceremoniously yanked from the Berlinale at the last minute, while Zu Feng’s Summer of Changsha disappeared without warning from Cannes in May.

But now, Better Days is set to hit cinema screens in China this week, four months on from its originally-announced release date. The movie was forced to postpone its scheduled domestic release in June just three days before it was due out — the same period of notice that’s now been given for its rescheduled release.

Starring Zhou Dongyu (of Zhang Yimou’s Under the Hawthorn Tree) and TFBoy Jackson YeeBetter Days follows a bullied student in the run-up to China’s all-important — and notoriously stressful — gaokao national college entrance exams.

According to the official blurb, “Like so many others, Nian has been single-mindedly preparing for the exam, cutting everything else out of her life. When she becomes the target of relentless bullying, fate brings her together with small-time criminal Bei and the two form a strong friendship. Before they can completely retreat into a world of their own, the two are dragged in the middle of a murder case of a teenage girl where they are the prime suspects.”

Yee isn’t the first member of squeaky clean pop group TFBoys to tackle a gritty subject matter on the big screen. Roy Wang appeared in Wang Xiaoshuai’s exploration of the impact of the One Child Policy, So Long, My Son, earlier this year.

Related:

TFBoys to Men: Pop Propaganda and the Growing Pains of China’s Biggest Boy Band

Perhaps unsurprisingly in the current climate, censors seemingly balked at Better Days‘ content and releasing it around the time of the actual gaokao exams. Exactly what has been left on the cutting room floor and how this will effect the overall feel of the film that is now making it to Chinese cinema screens is hard to determine. But there is considerable excitement online at the film’s long-delayed release, with Better Days hashtags attracting hundreds of thousands of views on microblogging service Weibo this week.

Well Go, who have distributed a number of big-name Chinese releases in the US in recent years, are now reportedly looking at securing a North America run for the film.

Interestingly, Summer of Changsha also made it to a domestic screen just last week — albeit in a far more low-key fashion at Fuzhou’s Silk Road Film Festival. That seems to have been a prelude to a nationwide release however, with Zu’s reportedly dark thriller now also set for an unlikely rebound from its previous “technical issues.”

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.