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'China Heavyweight' to Become Most Widely Screened Documentary in Chinese History

China Heavyweight
"China Heavyweight"

Canadian-Chinese director Yung Chang hopes his documentary will explore aspects of contemporary life through boxing.

Boxing was banned as "too Western and brutal" after the revolution in 1949, but Canadian-Chinese director Yung Chang hopes his documentary, China Heavyweight, will explore aspects of contemporary life through the medium of the ring.

The movie is due to screen at more than 200 theaters nationwide on Dec. 20, making it the most widely screened documentary in Chinese history.

A Canada-China co-production from Montreal's Eyesteel Films and Beijing’s Yuanfang Media, China Heavyweight was tailored for release in both markets.

Since the ban on boxing was lifted in 1986 it has become more popular, and Chang's documentary focuses on a coach and his teenage boxers in Huili, a county in Sichuan province.

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"Boxing is considered a very Western sport and a very individual sport. It's about two people in the ring fighting for themselves," Chang told local media. "I thought that would be very interesting to put in a Chinese context, where the younger generation is experiencing a kind of conflict with individualism and tradition."

Chinese boxing has made headway in recent years. Champs such as Zou Shiming won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, a feat he repeated in London four years later, while Xiong Chaozhong became China's first pro boxing champion by winning the WBC Minimumweight belt in 2012.

He sees boxing as a metaphor about the young generation and about what is means to be an individual.

The wide release on 200 screens, including in Lumieres and Wanda cinema chains, follows pre-release screenings in Chengdu, Chongqing, Kunming, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Beijing, Jinan, Hangzhou, Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou, through Rear Window Distribution.

The documentary debuted at Sundance in January 2012 and earned the Taiwan Golden Horse award for best documentary in 2013. Zeitgeist released China Heavyweight in the U.S. market.

The documentary about China's boxing world was produced by the late Peter Wintonick, an innovator in documentaries involving Canadian and Chinese partners.

Other Eyesteel Films documentaries include Chang's Up The Yangtze and Last Train Home by Fan Lixin.

During the shooting of the movie, Chang ran into former champ Mike Tyson in China and showed him footage from the film.

"Because usually, people in boxing are impoverished people from a lower class ... Tyson is the same, so he can relate to the characters of the movie," Chang said.