China Heavyweight: Film Review

Less than compelling documentary portrait of aspiring young Chinese boxers.

Set in Sichuan province, the doc follows the lives of two teenagers who aspire to represent their country in the Olympics at a sport banned during Mao's reign.

Chronicling the training of two aspiring Chinese teenagers in a sport that has apparently regained great popularity after being banned by Mao during the Cultural Revolution, China Heavyweight is an uneasy mixture of familiar sports doc tropes and sociological portraiture. Although not fully satisfying on either level, this film by Yung Chang, previously responsible for the acclaimed Up the Yangtze, nonetheless provides a suitably exotic spin to its warhorse genre.

Set mostly at a boxing school in Sichuan province, the film tracks two 17-year-olds, Miao Yunfei and He Zongli, who aspire to represent their country in the Olympics and ultimately go on to professional careers. Their trainer is thirty something Qi Moxiang, a former professional boxer who still harbors dreams of returning to the ring despite his advanced age.

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Eschewing narration or indeed much in the way of informational context, the cinema-verite style doc also examines the two young fighters’ personal lives, including their tense interactions with their farmer parents who look askance at their sons’ choice of profession.

Shot and edited in a haphazard fashion that often proves less than narratively coherent, China Heavyweight nonetheless delivers ample visual testimony to the sport’s renewed prominence in China, as well as providing subtle clues about the government’s machinations designed to ensure that the country will be well represented at the Olympics.

Still, there’s little that’s fresh here, with the endless montages of training and matches ultimately proving repetitive. Somewhat alleviating the visual tedium are the gorgeous shots of the mountainous Sichuan countryside that are periodically dotted throughout the compact 94-minute running time.

Opened July 7 (Zeitgeist Films).
Production: Telefilm Canada, Rogers Group of Funds.
Director/screenwriter: Yung Chang.
Producers: Bob Moore, Peter Wintonick, Han Yi, Zhao Qi.
Executive producers: Daniel Cross, Mila Aung-Thwin, Fan Lixin.
Director of photography: Sun Shaoguang.
Editors: Hannele Halm, Feng Xi.
Music: Olivier Alary.
Not rated, 94 min.