Better Days

Grace Schutte

More stories from Grace Schutte

Book club
May 10, 2023

Content Warning: This article contains references to bullying and suicide. 

I have to admit, I am not much of a movie watcher. I love movies, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been known to binge the occasional show, but I’m not a very consistent cinema consumer. 

Like, I don’t even have a TV. 

Some of you are probably wondering how a person can even do that in this day and age, but it’s true. What I do have, as of last Christmas, though, is a projector (thank you, Santa). And that, that is something I can get behind. 

My theory as to why I’ve never gotten into movies much in the past is because the idea of sitting down for two hours straight and doing nothing productive seemed like, and I hate to say this, a waste of time. 

As a chronically busy person, time spent relaxing or enjoying myself felt like stolen moments that I should feel guilty about having taken. I am happy to report that my mindset has changed. In my last semester of college, I finally realized the value of a work-life balance. 

It sure took me long enough. 

Part of my new mental-health-first regimen includes watching more movies. I get my projector set up on a precarious stack of books, turn off the lights, pour myself a glass of wine and snuggle into my couch. It is quite vibey, if I do say so and I’ve enjoyed myself immensely. 

One of the most recent films I’ve watched was a Chinese movie called “Better Days” that was released in 2019. As a lover of language learning, I am a huge fan of watching and listening to films, TV shows, songs — everything — in their original language. 

I think it’s so cool, and I, without fail, repeat the words I hear and consider re-downloading Duolingo for the n-th time. 

I nestled down to watch “Better Days” in its original Mandarin and was absolutely mesmerized not only by the language, but by the story, too. 

In it, our protagonist Chen Nien is attending a cram school as she prepares to take the college entrance exam, which to me seems like the ACT but on steroids. 

Things are already tense but it’s made even more so when, within the first few minutes, a girl jumps off the school’s roof and commits suicide. 

On top of the stress of the exam, we learn that she also was the victim of intense bullying from a group of girls attending the school. Viewers watch on in horror as Chen Nien becomes their next target. 

But Chen Nien’s life is difficult enough as is — her mother is in hiding from a number of debtors seeking to collect what is owed them, and Chen Nien is left alone until they can make enough money to be together again. But first, she needs to pass the exam. Not only pass, but do well. 

Chen Nien is dedicated to her studies and will no doubt excel, but it’s hard to focus when the police keep bringing you in for questioning (they think you know something about that girl’s death), just to get chased to an empty home by the bullies. 

I was so stressed watching this. It’s not a relaxing film. 

But things get a little better when she meets Xiao Bei, a small-time criminal she tries to help. He immediately latches on to her and offers to walk her to and from school as a thank you. She is reluctant at first, but they eventually become good friends and even live together. 

As you might expect, their relationship eventually grows into a sweet, tender, (insert here more synonyms), wholesome love. It’s them against this cruel, messed up world — and it’s beautiful. 

Until there’s another death, that is. 

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but know that I cried both happy and sad tears. If you haven’t given international movies a try yet, I can’t recommend them enough. You can watch “Better Days” on Tubi, through a VPN or read the web novel the film was inspired by. 

Schutte can be reached at [email protected].