in China must be improving. They now
have round-card girls. Decades ago, Mao
banned Olympic-style boxing on the grounds it was too western and excessively
violent. He then launched the Cultural Revolution. Legalized in 1986, the Chinese boxing
authorities are now taking a long view, recruiting potential Olympians at the
middle school level. Yung Chang follows
a contender turned coach and two of his fighters in China Heavyweight (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at
the IFC Center.
is an attractive alternative to working in the tobacco fields for many of the
students in the Sichuan countryside. The
sport has become a way of life for Coach Qi Moxiang. He recruits young boxers, both boys and
girls, and directly oversees their training.
He is tough, but popular with his charges.
first, Chang’s primary POV figures
appear to be He Zongli and Miao Yunfei, two boxers about to graduate to the
regional level of competition. We see a
fair amount of training and the mean condition of life in the province that
they hope to escape. However, Heavyweight kicks into narrative gear
about halfway through, when Qi decides to return to the ring to face a Japanese
belt-holder. Suddenly, there is a
traditional underdog boxing story unfolding in Sichuan.
Heavyweight is highly
attuned to the economic disparities of contemporary China as well as the conflicts
between tradition and the drive to modernize.
However, Chang largely overlooks Sichuan’s recent tragic history. Rocked by an earthquake in May of 2008, anger
boiled over at the local authorities for allowing the shoddy construction
practices that acerbated its deadly toll.
Sichuan could use a champion, but that might not be in the interests of
the vested establishment.
Chang has a good handle of the conventions of boxing movies, capturing some
dramatic ringside action. There is even
a scene of Qi’s boxers running up a series of ancient steps that echoes a
certain film from 1976. He and
cinematographer Sun Shaoguang also convey the harsh and lonely beauty of the
surrounding terraced landscape. Viewers
get a viewers sense of the milieu, but besides Qi, the boxers’ personalities
are not so strongly delineated (He is the shy one, while Miao is the slightly
more confident one).
Shifting from an observational doc into old
fashioned sports story, Heavyweight becomes
more engaging as it goes along. The
development of organizing boxing post-Maoist insanity is a story worth telling,
but as a socio-economic investigation, it is not nearly as telling a raft of
recent depressing Chinese documentaries, such as Zhao Liang’s jaw-dropping
expose Petition, or the uncomfortably
intimate Last Train Home, helmed by Heavyweight co-executive producer Lixin
Fan. Oddly recommended more for the
audience of HBO’s Real Sports than
for serious China watchers, China
Heavyweight opens this Friday (7/6) at the IFC Center.
Labels: Boxing, Documentary, Sports films