Derek Tsang’s Oscar-Nominated ‘Better Days’ Is A Brutally Honest Story About Bullying


By: Amanda Guarragi

The one thing that we can all agree on is that everyone has had their fair encounters with bullying. No matter how minor the bullying could have been, we can all acknowledge that it exists. People can be cruel, violent, and completely horrible. Bullying, can take many forms and sometimes it is impossible to get out of that position. In Better Days, something that really stood out to me was the line, “Either you bully others or you get bullied.” and no matter your position, there is some form of it every single day. Derek Tsang wanted to address this specific issue for many years and when his producer handed him the novel by Jiu Yuexi’s book ‘In His Youth, In Her Beauty‘, he could finally tell the story through a specific lens.

Tsang wanted to shed light on this issue because it was always a fascinating subject. He addressed social platforms like YouTube and Facebook having multiple videos of young children being bullied. Smartphones have made it very accessible for these traumatic situations to appear on any platform in the matter of minutes. “That is when it really shocked me, as to how these kids can do that sort of stuff to each other. The idea of making a film to personally address the issue has been there since. It has been around for a long time but I was always trying to find an angle to help tell the story.” Tsang said.

What can most definitely be appreciated about this film is Tsang being extremely honest with his audience. He did not shy away from showing the most violent, emotionally damaging and traumatic moments at all. I’m sure everyone will appreciate the fact that Tsang wanted to make it authentic as possible, “I really wanted all of the slaps, punches and hits to be real. So that the audience can really feel the pain.” When directing one of the harsher scenes, Tsang made sure that his lead actress, Dongyu Zhou, who plays Nian, was comfortable with this level of physical contact for the scene, “She was very professional, she said she wanted that as well because she didn’t want it to look fake.” There was a level of trust that was built on this set, among the entire cast and crew because of the story they were bringing to the screen.

What was really interesting to see was the budding relationship between Nian and Bei (Jackson Yee), they started out as a very unlikely pairing, meeting in an alleyway because some men were beating Bei. Nian, who had clearly seen enough bullying/harassment at that point in the film, goes to save him, even if she was manhandled, she wanted to save someone. Nian and Bei lived two very different lives, they are on opposite ends of the spectrum and they slowly become dependent on the other. There is a mutual respect and love for one another, given the cards that they were dealt in life,

“So we told them, not only do you guys have to treat each other like boyfriend and girlfriend, but I want you guys to be family, like a brother and sister, in which you would sacrifice yourself for the other, to survive. So that’s how we really approached that relationship. I mean it was really fascinating to watch the actors slowly getting into that trust and bond as well. We shot everything in linear sequence and it just worked it out perfectly.”

-Derek Tsang, Better Days

The performances from Yee and Zhou were incredible. You could truly see their connection become stronger as the film went on and filming it in linear sequence, presented a different feel to their relationship. Anyone can resonate with this kind of bond. Tsang said, “It was more like two people becoming one entity, in their belief, in their wish, or hope in escaping this situation, or the city itself.” Tsang also shows the class system very well and dives into the hierarchy in the education system as well. There are people who will always have an air of superiority and that is something that can only be dismantled, from within the system, which created that mentality.

When asked about how children can sometimes feel ashamed that they are being bullied, Tsang mentioned that it is a very difficult position to be in. Whether you are the child being bullied, or the authority figure trying to help them. Children do not want to admit that they are being bullied because they do not even know what the consequences could be after reaching out to someone. They live in constant fear of speaking out because they overthink what could possibly happen to them. “Kids in that situation a lot of times, they find themselves very helpless. In a way we kind of wanted to convey that message in the film, that’s why we have the point-of-view of the teacher and the parents.” Tsang said. He explored all avenues and wanted to present a whole piece about those who are suffering from bullying and how to help.

Even though the story was very bleak and poignant, the journey for Tsang and his crew was very memorable. When you bond over a mutual respect for an issue and a love for your craft, that bond is like no other. And Tsang was able to find both throughout his journey. He shared a memory with me,

There is one photo that you could find online, everytime I see that photo it always brings warmth and a smile to my face. There’s a photo of us, it was taken immediately after we shot the scene, when the actor and actress shaved their head. In solidarity, I told my actors, especially my actress because it’s a big thing for an actress to shave her head. So I said, if you’re going to do it, I’ll do it with you guys. I’m going to shave my head and it was just amazing bc not only me but a lot of the crew, we all shaved our head in solidarity with the actors.”

– Derek Tsang, Better Days

In the time they spent together, they became very close and in telling this brutally honest story, it brought them even closer. Better Days is a labor of love and audiences who watch this film will understand the message. Everyone needs a bit more compassion, empathy and most importantly love in their life. For a film to have this much support off-screen, for a serious subject matter like bullying, it can be very rewarding. The importance of addressing these issues authentically will help so many others in the long-run.

cdrama tweets on Twitter: "Director #DerekTsang thanks Weibo Movie Night  for the honor and shares a new BTS pic of #ZhouDongyu, #YiYangQianXi, and  other cast and crew members on the set of #

Stormchaser Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Have you thought about chasing tornadoes?

Have you ever gone on a spontaneous adventure and it turned out to be the most thrilling moment of your life?

Well Bonnie Blue (Mary Birdsong) went storm chasing with her father when she was a teenager and she fell in love with every single aspect. The wind going full speed, the way the tornado formed and the colours around the shape. Most importantly sharing that with the one man in her life that she could depend on. Bonnie loved her dad and all of those adventures with him were truly something special. Fast forward many years later, where Bonnie inherited her dad’s old pickup truck and is now working as a salesman, for shingles. After all those years storm chasing, Bonnie knew about those shingles blowing off.

Courtesy of Culture Catalyst

Bonnie was the lone wolf on her team, meaning she was the only woman on the salesman team and it looked exhausting. The workplace at ‘Flip’s’ was beyond toxic and filled with testosterone. When Bonnie walked into work, you could feel the sense of entitlement from majority of the men working there because they were salesmen. Bonnie did not hold back at all with her reactions, every single time Flip (Stephen Plunkett) said something Bonnie just looked disgusted. It showed how toxic a workplace can be and how sexist men can be. At first Bonnie wanted to make some sales for Flip but then when she realized he was playing her, things took a turn for the worst.

The ending of this film had karma written all over it and I loved that it came from the eye of the storm, which was inside Bonnie the whole time. Bonnie’s relationship with her father was incredibly strong, almost like a force of nature bonding them together and that’s how Bonnie transforms at the end of this film. It has such dry humour that the comedic moments were delivered flawlessly and had me laughing. Director Gretl Claggett made a really fun film with a deeper meaning.

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Holy, Jingle Bells!

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two is the film that will definitely get you into the Christmas spirit! My favourite Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) is back and this time the story takes us to the North Pole and his workshop… well Mrs. Claus’s (Goldie Hawn) workshop.

It is a very solid sequel that builds upon Kate’s (Darby Camp) story and her relationship with her mother. It’s a very different Christmas for the Pierce’s as they celebrate the holiday on a beach, in Cancun, thanks to Claire’s (Kimberly Williams – Paisley) new beau Bob (Tyrese Gibson). The intention of the vacation was to bring both family units together to bond, as Bob and Claire take their relationship to the next step.

The wonderful thing about this sequel is that it brings the same Christmas magic as the first one and tells a heartfelt story about adapting to a new life, after grieving. It seems dark when explained in that way but the Christmas spirit created a lighthearted atmosphere in order to tell this story. Kate has the Christmas spirit because of her father and it is a beautiful thing to see. Kate is headstrong and wants to celebrate Christmas the normal way, her dad’s way but Bob just came in and decided to change everything.

Courtesy of 1492 Pictures and Wonder Worldwide
(left) Goldie Hawn, Darby Camp, Jahzir Bruno and Kurt Russell

The idea of moving on, from any situation, is easier said than done but when it comes to grieving a parent, there is no amount of time to even process the pain. Kate has wonderful memories of her father, even the song “O, Christmas Tree” has a special place in her heart and it’s associated to a memory. As Kate processes her possible new life with Bob and a kid brother Jake (Jahzir Bruno), she calls upon jolly old Saint Nick to help her with one final Christmas wish.

The story isn’t only about Kate, there is a parallel with the antagonist of the film named Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), who has an interesting story of his own, involving Santa’s workshop. As the story unfolds Belsnickel and Kate have more in common than they thought, in regards to how to deal with their feelings of neglect. It presented such a great story that young children will definitely understand and allow parents to understand what their child could be going through. It is fun for the whole family with a great lesson to be learned.

The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two improves upon the same heartfelt story and elevates the action sequences from the first instalment. It is a film designed to make you feel warm and cheerful about the upcoming Christmas season, even though things may seem bleak. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn bring their charm to the screen to steal everyone’s hearts, as they both embody the true spirit of Christmas. It is lighthearted, very funny and wholesome.

Make sure to catch The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two on Netflix November 25th for a jolly good time with the whole family!

Camp Twilight Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Camp Twilight is a fun mixture of classic slasher films that had its very own twist ending. It’s definitely campy, over-exaggerated, borderline cringey but it works. After realizing their about to fail senior year, 6 high school students agree to a weekend camping trip for extra credit. Lead by Ms. Bloom (Felissa Rose) and Mr. Warner (Barry Jay Minoff), they quickly find out the horrid past of the campsite.

The film felt like a cross between Scream and Friday the 13th, it even had character names like Sidney and the last name of a character named Loomis. It felt like a nice homage to slasher films, especially these classics. It’s filled with similar tropes and a ton of overacting at times, but for some reason it worked. A slasher film that has you yelling at the screen over the stupid decisions campers make, is definitely fun to sit through.

Courtesy of DarkCoast Entertainment

Its writers Brandon Amolette and Felissa Rose really went back to the roots of slasher films. It had a very simple structure with generic characters, that we really wouldn’t mind losing, once the killer went on the murder spree. They also incorporated cops, who don’t really know what they’re doing, which made for really funny moments. Like every slasher film, the kills have to be great and there were plenty of suspenseful moments.

Camp Twilight is as campy as it gets. It is a lot of fun, definitely surprising at times and it has a wicked ending. The score that accompanies the campers, on their disturbing weekend, really tied everything together. It is a lot to take in because there is so much happening but it’s such a fun ride for the genre. As long as you’re yelling at these campers, telling them not to do the inevitable, it is definitely entertaining.

Over the Moon Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Over the Moon co-directed by Glen Keane and John Kahrs is one of the best animated films of the year. It has such stunning animation and an incredibly emotional story that will move you to tears. The screenplay co-written by Audrey Wells and Jennifer Yee McDevitt was so beautiful and explores grieving from a young girl’s perspective. When losing someone so dear to your heart, there is always some little detail, or memory that we hold onto to make us feel better and this film does that so well.

In this animated musical adventure, young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) remembers the story her mother used to tell her, when she was a child about the moon goddess. It is a love story about an archer who passed on and his spirit remains with the moon goddess, so she waits for him to return to her, hoping that their love can be rekindled. The lore parallels the relationship between Fei Fei’s parents and she so desperately wants to believe that this story is real because it is what her mother told her.

The animation is incredibly well done and the world that was created was so imaginative. It has such a wonderful soundtrack and the songs will definitely stay with you after you’ve finished the film. It is so much fun from beginning to end (I may be biased because of the white bunny named Bungee with purple eyes and magic powers stealing my heart) and it will pull on your heartstrings.

Over the Moon was an unexpected surprise for Netflix and it is such a wonderful animated film added to their library. It also holds so much cultural significance that is so lovely to see on screen. It literally takes you out of reality for a little while and that’s what is so exciting about the film. Its animation, soundtrack and heartfelt story will make you remember this film and the universal support that it gives those who are grieving during this time.