Better Days Blu-ray Review

Better Days tells the story of a bullied teenage girl that forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of preparing for the final examinations that will set her life on a new course. Ralph Potts reviews the Blu-ray release from Well Go USA.

The Review at a Glance:
(max score: 5 )

Film:

Extras:

Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )

85

Details:

Studio and Year: Well Go USA – 2019
MPAA Rating: NR
Feature running time: 136 minutes
Genre: Drama

Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Resolution: 1080p/24

Audio Format(s): Mandarin DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Chinese
Starring: Zhou Dongyu, Jackson Yee, Yin Fang, Huang Jue, Wu Yue, Zhou Ye
Directed by: Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang
Music by: Varda Buehrer
Written by: Lam Wing Sum, Li Yuan, Xu Yimeng
Region Code: A

Release Date: May 5, 2020

“There Will Always Be Shadows on the Path”

Synopsis:

Better Days tells the story of a bullied teenage girl that forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of preparing for the final examinations that will set her life on a new course.

My Take:

When it is time for the Chinese gaokao, a two-day national college entrance exam, the entire country comes to a standstill. For nearly ten million high school students, this exam not only determines where and if they get to study but the fates of their entire families as well. 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.

In Better Days Director Derek Kwok-Cheung Tsang paints a bleak picture of an oppressive society, in the guise of a gripping fairy-tale love story. Better Days tackles difficult subject matter as it explores themes associated with class discrimination, bullying, gang violence, suicide and the pressures of scholastic achievement in a society where it can make or break not only your future but, that of your family as well.

The film paints in fine strokes using its dark elements as a catalyst to bring together two young people struggling to cope in a world where neither of them is accepted. Better Days is a gritty expose meant to deliver its message with a wallop while carefully maintain an emotional center built around the love that develops between two youth under trying circumstances that have forced them together. I found it to be powerful and, at times, unnerving as it connects us to Nian and Bei both separately and together.

The performances by Zhou Dongyu and Jackson Yee are simply terrific. The film’s cinematography and wonderfully done and underscores the thematic tone and subject matter. At 136 minutes it runs a bit long but, leaves no stone unturned in the process. Better Days is a compelling and well-crafted drama that strikes a resonating chord.

Replay Value:

Parental Guide:

The film contains sequences of teen violence, bullying, language and strong thematic content.

AUDIO/VIDEO – By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100/EXCELLENT = 83-91/GOOD = 74-82/AVERAGE = 65-73/BELOW AVERAGE = under 65

**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**

Audio: 84
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Dynamics: 
  • Low frequency effects: 
  • Surround Sound presentation: 
  • Clarity/Detail: 
  • Dialog Reproduction: 
  • DSU/DTS Neural:X Rating * (non-rated element): NA

Video: 86
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)

  • Resolution/Clarity: 
  • Black Level/Shadow Detail: 
  • Color Reproduction: 
  • Fleshtones:
  • Compression: 

Better Days comes to Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA featuring 1080p AVC encoded video and lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio sound.

A variety of visuals are effectively used in this film to help set the tone/setting based upon the director’s vision. Colors can vary from being sullen and inanimate to vivid with warm vitality. Skin tones are lifelike with natural tonality and descriptive variation but this can also be scene dependent. Images onscreen are primarily detailed and sharp especially during close up and mid-level pans. There are occasions where sharpness wavers, particularly during long rage camera shots, however it appears to be innate to the photography. Contrast is stable, black levels are slightly elevated and, shadow delineation provides excellent perceptibility during scenes shot at night or in lower lighting. I found this to be a solid yet unremarkable high definition presentation that seemed a good match for the source material.

The Mandarin lossless surround mix features dialog that is full bodied with defining tonal characteristics and prominent soundstage position. High level detail is readily apparent as sound effects, music and voices are rendered with enriching clarity and depth. There is little call for surround activity and extended dynamics however there are a few instances that provide a discernable level of spatial envelopment accompanied be punchy low frequency enhancement.

Bonus Features:

  • Making of Featurette
  • Trailers

Final Thoughts:

Better Days is a poignant and compelling drama that speaks to the human condition as seen through the eyes of two youths struggling to cope with a stacked deck that leaves them few options. It comes to Blu-ray from Well Go USA featuring gratifying high definition audio/video and a lackluster supplemental offering. Better Days is highly recommended viewing that deserves a place at the top of your Blu-ray rental queue.

Ralph Potts
AVS Forum Blu-ray Reviews

Reference Review System:

JVC DLA-RS2000 4K Ultra High Definition Front Projector
(Calibrated with Calman color calibration software and Portrait Displays C6 HDR2000 colorimeter from Portrait.com)
Stewart Filmscreen – Studiotek 130 G3 100” 16×9 Screen
Carada Masquerade Electronic Horizontal Masking System
Marantz AV7704 Audio/Video Processor
Emotiva XPA-7 Gen 3 Seven Channel Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen 3 Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
Oppo BDP-203 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player
System Controller: Apple iPad/Roomie Remote V6 Universal Remote Control
SVS Ultra Tower Speakers (Gloss Finish)
SVS Ultra Center Channel (Gloss Finish)
SVS Ultra Surrounds (Gloss Finish in Bipolar Configuration)
Dual SVS PC4000 Cylinder Subwoofers
Niles Audio In-Ceiling/In-Wall Series Speakers
Panamax M5400-PM Power Conditioner/Surge Protector
Wireworld, Better Cables (Silver Serpent) – Audio/Video/Speaker Cabling
AC Infinity Aircom T8 Component Cooling Systems