'Better Days' director hopes film inspires Chinese peers to tackle hard topics

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"Better Days" director Derek Tsang said his Oscar-nominated film could inspire other Chinese artists to pursue difficult topics despite the challenges in getting works past censors in China.

Adapted from Jiu Yuexi's novel Young and Beautiful, the movie tells the story of a bullied schoolgirl who develops a strong bond with a boy when they get caught up in a murder case.

The romantic crime film, shot in mainland China and the first by a Hong Kong-born director to receive an Oscar nomination, is shortlisted in the best international feature film category.

Hong Kong TV audiences won't be able to watch a win in real time, though, because free-to-air broadcaster TVB won't air the Academy Awards for the first time in more than 50 years. TVB, which has broadcast the Oscars every year since 1969, said it won't carry the ceremony this year for "commercial reasons".

Tsang believes censors gave his movie the green light "because everyone thinks the film carries a very positive message and (bullying is) something that needs to be discussed," he told Reuters in an interview.

Artistic freedoms have narrowed in recent years in China, where authorities can be uncomfortable with topics that portray aspects of society as less than harmonious.

While there was no "clear path" on how to pass censorship requirements, it was important for filmmakers and other artists to pursue subjects they believed in, Tsang said.

"Passion will carry you a very long distance," he said.

"One of the most encouraging comments that I've heard from fellow filmmakers is ... (that) our film inspired them ... that we try to tackle something that's difficult instead of choosing an easier path."

Better Days, released in October 2019 in China and a month later in the United States and other countries, has so far grossed over $200 million at the box office worldwide.

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