Directed by Derek Tsang, the youth melodrama film “Better Days“ (2019) landed a nomination for Best International Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards, according to the nominee list released by the Academy of Motion Picture arts and Sciences on Monday. Since the film was released in October 2019, it has grossed over $240 million, according to Chinese movie ticketing platform Maoyan.
The film features pop idol Jackson Yee and actress Zhou Dongyu, two mainlanders who have risen up to fame in the past decade, particularly among the younger generation. In “Better Days,” Yee plays a teenage street thug and Zhou plays a bullied high school student preparing for the grueling college entrance exam. Their mismatched love is tested by a murder case where both become prime suspects.
The last time a Chinese-language film was nominated for the same Oscar category was in 2003. “Hero,” a wuxia film directed by Zhang Yimou, won the nomination but lost to German drama film “Nowhere in Africa” in the final round. Before “Hero,” there were five Chinese-language films shortlisted for Best International Feature, including “Eat Drink Man Woman,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and “The Wedding Banquet” directed by Ang Lee, “Ju Dou,” and “Raise the Red Lantern” directed by Zhang Yimou, and “Farewell My Concubine” directed by Chen Kaige. Among the nominees, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was the only Oscar winner.
It also marks the first time that a Hong Kong-born director has been nominated for Oscar in the international film category. Born to Eric Tsang, a respected comedian, director and TV host, Derek Tsang was brought up in Canada and returned to Hong Kong in the early 2000s to pursue a career in the movie industry. Prior to “Better Days,” he also directed films including “Lover’s Discourse“ (2010), ”Soul Mate” (2016) and “The Thieves” (2012).
Even before the Oscar nomination, “Better Days” had been lapped up by cinephiles and critics, sweeping the Hong Kong Film Awards last year with eight awards including best director, best actress and best cinematography. In 2019, Tsang also won best director his work on “Better Days” by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Award.
In a recent Q&A session with Asia Society, Tsang said he had always wanted to make a movie about campus bullying as a phenomenon that rises with the increasing popularity of smartphones and other IoTs.
“I’ve always wanted to make a film that addresses this issue,” Tsang said. “Through all these years, I’ve always been looking for angles to tell the story.”
After he finished shooting the movie “Soul Mate,” his producer passed him the novel “In His Youth, In Her Beauty” by Jiu Yuexi.
“I read it in one night,” he said. “Right after I read it, I said this is the story that I have been waiting for so long.”
“Better Days“ will compete with four other nominees for the Oscar, including “Another Round” from Denmark, “Collective” from Romania, “The Man Who Sold His Skin” from Tunicia and “Quo Vadis, Aida?” from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The result will be released on April 25 pacific time at the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony.
Before entering the competition for an Oscar, “Better Days” had already taken Hong Hong by storm as it won eight prizes in the Hong Kong Film Awards last year.