In central China, a Master coach recruits poor rural teenagers and turns them into Western-style boxing champions. Through hard work and discipline, these boys and girls come of age, trained in the art of boxing and the game of life. They are filled with Olympic dreams, hoping to become China’s next amateur heroes. But the pull of professionalism also weighs upon their shoulders. Their coach hopes to show them the way. The top student boxers face dramatic choices as they graduate – should they fight for the collective good as amateurs or for themselves and their own personal gain as professionals? It’s a metaphor for the choices that everyone faces now, in the New China. And the idea of modern China confronting the ideology of Western culture is similarly present as defining artistic center. It’s just that investing in the outcome of subjects with such a limited concept of self is a bit of a stretch.
It not only told the story of Moxiang Qi, Dickie Xinchun and the family aspect but was a credit to the real internal and external struggle of never giving up. “China Heavyweight” does proper justice to the hardworking ways and the People of Szetcheun and Zhongli areas. Through the movie, one gets a crystal-clear sense of China’s plan of stoked national pride; their plodding, rung-by-rung focus on provincial tournaments reminds one of videogame levels that must be cleared in order to advance to the next section of play. In addition to the marvelous performances, the makeup department has done a remarkable job, especially by making Liming Fan look old enough to play Zongli and Yunfei’s mother. Zongli actually does look years older than Yunfei (when in reality he’s a year younger) and that just adds more to the authenticity. From the opening sequence, I was under the impression that ‘China Heavyweight’ was going to be a documentary-type movie but Yung Chang tricks and surprises the audience with that. His execution is subtle unlike the loud approach which other directors commonly follow.
For me, China Heavyweight is more about the human connection than the sports itself. Boxing is clearly a metaphor as is the title which has multiple meanings. Even though he’s been constantly let down by his family, Zongli chose to give them a second chance and have them by his side. Even though Yungsuen disapproves Zhong and Dicky’s involvement in Ye’s career, Dicky attempts to persuade him because he knows that Ye won’t stand a chance without him by his side. Even though Zhong and ChunXhi don’t see eye to eye, there’s a silent acceptance between them as they know that Yunfei needs them both. While three characters can be a handful to focus on, Chang does an excellent job in intertwining their stories and bringing them back together at the end of the film during Coach Qi’s final match.
But given that the documentary’s subject is boxing, there’s deeper meanings entwined in the film’s narrative approach. While extremely personal, it successfully highlights the camaraderie between each individual and the struggles faced as they go away from home to take a shot at fighting for the glory of their country. And even though the summary of this movie may seem like any sports documentary about overcoming challenges in order to become a champion, it’s interesting to see young individuals evolve into elite athletes from their humble village surroundings in the Sichuan province. All in all, a fascinating look at a changing China and the courage it takes for those living there to punch above their weight.