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 #

Amanda’s Golden Globes 2021 Predictions


By: Amanda Guarragi

It is our favourite time of year!

Hello, Oscar season! The Golden Globes will be hosted by our favourite gals, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. The show will begin at 8pm EST and hopefully it will go a bit faster this year. There were plenty of snubs and surprises – thank you, HFPA – but nonetheless, it’s always fun to have discussions about the films we loved this season.

So here are my picks for each category….

Who should win will be highlighted in RED

Who will win will be highlighted in PURPLE

Best Motion Picture – Drama 

“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

“Mank” (Netflix) 

“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) 

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Best Director – Motion Picture

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features)

David Fincher, “Mank” (Netflix) 

Regina King, “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) 

Aaron Sorkin, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) 

Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy 

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Amazon Studios) 

“Hamilton” (Walt Disney Pictures) 

“Palm Springs” (Neon) 

“Music” (Vertical Entertainment)

“The Prom” (Netflix) 

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) 

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Tahar Rahim (“The Mauritanian”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) 

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy 

Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

James Corden (“The Prom”)

Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) 

Dev Patel (“The Personal History of David Copperfield”) 

Andy Samberg (“Palm Springs”)

Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy 

Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Kate Hudson (“Music”)

Michelle Pfeiffer (“French Exit”) 

Rosamund Pike (“I Care a Lot”)

Anya Taylor-Joy (“Emma”) 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”) 

Jared Leto (“The Little Things”)

Bill Murray (“On the Rocks”) 

Leslie Odom, Jr. (“One Night in Miami”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role in Any Motion Picture 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Jodie Foster (“The Mauritanian”)

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Helena Zengel (“News of the World”)

Best Motion Picture – Animated 

“The Croods: A New Age” (Universal Pictures) 

“Onward” (Walt Disney Pictures) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Walt Disney Pictures) 

“Wolfwalkers” (Cartoon Saloon) 

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture 

Emerald Fennell – “Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

Jack Fincher – “Mank” (Netflix) 

Aaron Sorkin – “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Florian Zeller, Christopher Hampton – “The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

Chloe Zhao – “Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures) 

Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language 

“Another Round” (Samuel Goldwyn Films) 

“La Llorona” (Shudder) 

“The Life Ahead” (Netflix) 

“Minari” (A24) 

“Two of Us” (Magnolia Pictures)

Best Original Score – Motion Picture 

“The Midnight Sky” (Netflix) – Alexandre Desplat 

“Tenet” (Warner Bros.) – Ludwig Göransson 

“News of the World” (Universal Pictures) – James Newton Howard 

“Mank” (Netflix) – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Soul” (Pixar) – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste 

Best Original Song – Motion Picture

“Fight for You” from “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) – H.E.R., Dernst Emile II, Tiara Thomas 

“Hear My Voice” from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) – Daniel Pemberton, Celeste

“Io Si (Seen)” from “The Life Ahead” (Netflix) – Diane Warren, Laura Pausini, Niccolò Agliardi 

“Speak Now” from “One Night in Miami” (Amazon Studios) – Leslie Odom Jr, Sam Ashworth 

“Tigress & Tweed” from “The United States vs. Billie Holliday” (Hulu) – Andra Day, Raphael Saadiq

Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy

“Emily in Paris” (Netflix)

“The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max)

“The Great” (Hulu) 

“Schitt’s Creek” (CBC) 

“Ted Lasso” (Apple TV Plus) 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama

Jason Bateman (“Ozark”) 

Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”) 

Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)

Al Pacino (“Hunters”) 

Matthew Rhys (“Perry Mason”) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television 

Cate Blanchett (“Mrs. America”) 

Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”)

Shira Haas (“Unorthodox”) 

Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”) 

Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”) 

Best Television Series – Drama 

“The Crown” (Netflix)

“Lovecraft Country” (HBO Max) 

“The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus) 

“Ozark” (Netflix)

“Ratched” (Netflix)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Drama 

Olivia Colman (“The Crown”) 

Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”)

Emma Corrin (“The Crown”) 

Laura Linney (“Ozark”) 

Sarah Paulson (“Ratched”) 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television 

Bryan Cranston (“Your Honor”)

Jeff Daniels (“The Comey Rule”) 

Hugh Grant (“The Undoing”) 

Ethan Hawke (“The Good Lord Bird”) 

Mark Ruffalo (“I Know This Much Is True”) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy 

Lily Collins (“Emily in Paris”)

Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”) 

Elle Fanning (“The Great”) 

Jane Levy (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”) 

Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”) 

Best Television Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television 

“Normal People” (Hulu/BBC) 

“The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix) 

“Small Axe” (Amazon Studios/BBC) 

“The Undoing” (HBO) 

“Unorthodox” (Netflix) 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television 

John Boyega (“Small Axe”) 

Brendan Gleeson (“The Comey Rule”) 

Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) 

Jim Parsons (“Hollywood”)

Donald Sutherland (“The Undoing”) 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy 

Don Cheadle (“Black Monday”)

Nicholas Hoult (“The Great”) 

Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”) 

Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”) 

Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”) 

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Limited Series or Motion Picture Made for Television 

Gillian Anderson (“The Crown”) 

Helena Bonham Carter (“The Crown”) 

Julia Garner (“Ozark”) 

Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”) 

Cynthia Nixon (“Ratched”)

Well there you have it! All of my picks for every single category. If you want to stay updated, follow along on twitter: @amxndareviews for live updates and maybe some ranting.

Pieces Of A Woman Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Pieces of a Woman is a heartbreaking film about the loss of a new life. It also puts into perspective how fragile we are as humans. Director Kornél Mundruczó shows the raw emotion and physical journey of a woman in labor. There are natural ways to give birth and Martha (Vanessa Kirby) wanted a home birth. There are horror stories that you often hear about, in regards to home births, but you never quite see the the aftermath. Mundruczó showed everything. It was uncomfortable, and rather painful to watch but the emotional connection established with Martha is incredibly strong.

The film is more of a character study centered on Martha. We see her quirkiness, energy and light in the beginning of the film. As she struggles to push the newborn out of her (for the first 20 minutes of the film) Kirby gives a very raw performance, one that you would see in acting classes. Mundruczó creates so much tension during the birth, that you feel something bad is about to happen, especially when the midwife begins to panic. There is a small moment of happiness, of complete elation when the birthing process is complete and then, it feels like someone rips your heart out and crushes it with their bare hands.

Vanessa Kirby
Courtesy of Bron Studios and Netflix

It has such a strong story and the performances from everyone, especially Ellen Burstyn were extremely strong. The structure and the pacing are the only issues with this film. It started off very strong and then there’s a lull in the middle. Kirby’s performance is internal and you can see the stages of grief as the film goes on. There are other issues that come up in regards to their child that move the story forward but it was extremely slow. Kirby’s performance carries the entire film until the very end, as she has minor confrontations with her mother Ellen Burstyn. The scenes are executed almost like a stage play, meaning the dialogue was heavy and the scenes were static.

The important thing that can be noted from watching Pieces of a Woman is that technology has allowed everything to be safer during the birthing process. There is a conversation between Martha and her mother, that was really eye-opening because they discuss how some mothers from older generations gave birth without the help of doctors in hospitals. They all had a midwife and had home births because there was no other option. The film explores the stages of grief, depression and anxiety from a mother’s perspective after the loss of her child. It is a very heavy film but it is a story that needs to be told in order to help further understand what can go wrong during the birthing process.

Soul Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

Soul is the perfect film to end the year with. It is an animated film that reinstates the meaning of life and the purpose we serve in the world. It is beautifully animated because Pixar has perfected their rendering technology to make everything lifelike. The story is well-written and is incredibly heartfelt. Everyone has dreams or goals they want to accomplish at a certain time in their life. While trying to achieve those goals, they forget to live their lives.

This movie is one of the most important pieces to come out this year. I think everyone has lost themselves a bit during this pandemic. For the majority of this year people have reevaluated their lives and how they live. While watching Soul you will gain a new appreciation for life because director, Pete Docter shows us how wonderful the small things in life are through a character named, 22 (Tina Fey). We often question what our purpose in life is and as we try to navigate our way through this journey, we lose sight of the small things that can make us happy.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a music teacher at his local school and he has one student in his class that has soul when she plays the trombone. She loves playing and Joe can tell that it comes from such a special place. He knows that she was meant to play that instrument, much like his connection to playing piano. Joe is a wonderful music teacher because he believes in the connectivity and the artistic nature of music. There’s a feeling one has when connecting to art, it’s a special feeling and Docter presents it so well. The score from Reznor and Ross elevated the animation and will bring you into the atmosphere Docter created. It is a film that you will lose yourself in because of how stunning it is.

Courtesy of Pixar and Walt Disney Pictures

Soul is emotional and incredibly moving because it has conversations about the choices people make in their lives. What makes us fully formed people? Why do we have the need to find a purpose in life and if we don’t we consider ourselves failures? These are internal struggles that we have all faced, time and time again. There is one scene in a barbershop that I absolutely loved because of the conversation about career paths and life struggles. Life doesn’t always deal the best cards and everyone has to find a path that suits their situation, even if you stray away from your dreams.

The meaning of life isn’t something that can be explained, or even found, there is no answer to the age old question. Humans are placed on Earth to live, to simply exist, while experiencing the wonders life has to offer. Soul will make you appreciate all the memories you have, whether you remember your first bite of pizza ever, the first time waves crashed over your feet at the beach, or the first time you experienced a sunset, those small moments made an impact. That is why life is worth living. It’s not slaving away at your job, it’s not struggling to find your purpose, it’s simply living and that’s a beautiful sentiment.

Promising Young Woman Review


By: Amanda Guarragi

This is the film of the year. This is a film that takes all of the typical “take a girl home” tropes and flips it on its head. It is bold, daring and incredibly dark but in all the right ways. Emerald Fennell’s screenplay and direction is impeccable. She knew the story she wanted to tell and how to execute it to perfection. Cassie Thomas (Carey Mulligan) has been seeking revenge for an incident that happened back in University and she is ruthless. Cassie has easily become one of my favourite characters of all time because of the way she carried herself in the film.

Promising Young Woman shows the treatment of women and the consequences that should come with it. We all figure that it is the year 2020 and well after the #MeToo movement, men would at least try to change their ways. But we continue to be disappointed, time and time again. This film is unlike anything I’ve seen and it is because of how the story is structured. It does slow down towards the middle of the film, only to pick back up and deliver one of the most controversial endings of the year. Some will agree with the ending and others will most definitely be infuriated. However, the ending of the film is the perfect reflection of how women are treated and what men deserve.

Carey Mulligan as Cassandra Thomas
Courtesy of LMKMEDIA and Focus Features

The story is just so well-written and the casting was perfect. We have never seen Carey Mulligan like this and that is why her name (and the film itself) deserves to be in the Oscar season mix. Mulligan gave such a thrilling, complex performance, she completely owned the role and understood Cassie so well. The supporting cast consisting of Bo Burnam, Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Molly Shannon, Jennifer Coolidge and Connie Britton really brought so much to the table to make this film work. Everything about this film was perfect in my eyes and it will definitely spark a conversation, which is the most important thing.

Courtesy of Focus Features

There are moments in this film that have stayed with me long after I’ve watched it. These key emotional moments are placed perfectly to showcase Cassie’s talents and the underlying misogyny that is evident in society. The soundtrack that accompanies the film reflects Cassie’s journey and the songs are chosen extremely well. The score also juxtaposes what happens in certain scenes, which creates a sense of anticipation when watching Cassie have certain interactions with others. There is an undercurrent of tension prevalent throughout the whole film and it’s because every single aspect of this film works so well together.

Promising Young Woman is the film of the year. Carey Mulligan gives the performance of her career and should be highly praised for her work. The character of Cassie Thomas essentially symbolizes all women who have been treated poorly or have been involved in something much bigger. It felt like a gigantic middle finger to men everywhere and it is a film that will leave its mark on you. Emerald Fennell’s film is crafted incredibly well to give everyone a sense of empowerment while serving justice to all.