one of these girls be the next Michelle Yeoh?
Possibly, but none of them seems to harbor such lofty aspirations. Regardless, they all train harder than most
professional athletes in hopes of earning a better life for their families
(shouldn’t that be the other way around?).
Inigo Westmeier observes the rigorous routine of the Shaolin Tagu Kung
Fu School’s students in Dragon Girls (trailer here), which screens
during the 2013 Brooklyn Film Festival.
these mostly poor provincial students, kung fu school can lead to better
military and police jobs than might otherwise be available to them. Unfortunately, the seven day training regime
does not leave much time for the kids to be kids. The Shaolin Tagu School accepts both boys and
girls, but Westmeier devotes about ninety percent of his attention to the
latter, focusing on three particular girls with complicated family
like the apparently abusive Shanghai Circus School documented by Guo Jing &
Ke Dingding, life at Shaolin Tagu does not look like a lot of fun. On the other hand, at least it offers the
girls some camaraderie. Given the
realities of life for poor rural girls (such as the protagonist of Wang Bing’s Three Sisters), things could arguably be
worse for the students. Still, the sanctimonious
headmaster is obviously cutting corners with respects to sanitation and
nutrition. Yet, the most trying aspect
for most of the girls is the lingering sensation of abandonment. Clearly, the school functions as an
alternative to an orphanage for many essentially absentee parents.
captures his three primary POV figures at their most open and vulnerable
moments. Frankly, it is often difficult watching
them struggle physically and emotionally, because they are really just kids. The extent of the headmaster’s authoritarian
indoctrination is nearly as disturbing, if not more so.
all the issues the film raises, seeing the collective student body of 35,000 in
action is admittedly impressive. For an
observational style doc, there is a heck of a lot of spectacle in Dragon Girls. These kids are good—but the monks in the
Shaolin monastery next door are probably better. As one might expect, they are less dogmatic
and far more Zen-like in their approach to martial arts. Westmeier tellingly contrasts the two so-close-yet-so-far-apart
Shaolin institutions without belaboring the point.
Girls further testifies to
the vast class divisions demarcating today’s China. It might be tough viewing, but it is an honest
reflection of reality. The extent to which Westmeier melds the social issue
documentary with martial arts cinema is also rather notable. Recommended for fans of both genres who can
handle some unvarnished truth, Dragon
Girls screens this Saturday (6/1) at Windmill Studios and the following
Thursday (6/6) at IndeiScreen as part of the “Magnetic” 2013 Brooklyn Film
Labels: BFF '13, Documentary, Martial arts cinema