Thursday, 3 May 2012

China Heavyweight (2012) @ 千錘百煉

Float like a butterfly and sting like a PRC
At a glance:
Pugilism in the PRC gets some international attention in China Heavyweight @ 千錘百煉 (translated as "to be tried and tested a thousand times"). See, Chairman Mao banned boxin in China back in 1959 for bein "too violent" and "too American" as this film will tell you, only for the ban to be lifted some 30 years later, givin rise to people like coach Qi Mo Xiang (pic), the movie's star and apparently the Republic's first pro boxer. This technically accomplished Chinese-Canadian production by filmmaker Chang Yung is a mesmerisin sports doc that doubles as a social commentary, offerin a privileged glimpse into the lives of three people; the said coach and his two embattled protégés - Miao Yun Fei and He Zong Li.
Bad news on the doorstep:
Don't train hard and you'll be back home farming.
Then you'll be no one but your mum's kid.

While obviously a useful addition to the canon of cinéma vérité (as proudly expounded by the helmer), you'd have to pardon the pun when I say this lacks the finishin punch when it comes to dramatic urgency, though possibly intentionally so. Torontonian reviewer Justin Li calls it "the boxing equivalent of Steve James’ basketball documentary, Hoop Dreams (1994)" and that it is "rife with dialectical feelings of both desperation and aspiration... an essential social document on the hardships and lack of opportunity in the industrialised ‘New’ China" but one would've fancied seein more strife in the choices of the characters. Perhaps extra characters could've added more compellin viewpoints to further highlight the gravitas of their personal struggles. One odd omission from this otherwise wonderful film would be the existence of weight categories, somethin one would feel deserves to get some passin mention in a film about boxin.
Perennial wonderment:
Would you rather be a piss poor never-been boxer or a medium-income excavator operator?
Reminds me of:
Coach Xi is a doppelganger for a chunky street punk who used to run the local snooker joint in my old neighbourhood in Malaysia. He's a hard man and comes across likeable in the film, so we'll forgive him for bein decked in Manchester United gear all the time and also lionisin Mike Tyson. 
I can't remember if I cried:
When I heard the coach tell The Globe And Mail film critic Liam Lacey last night about the fate of one of the boys from the movie. I saw this at Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas as part of the annual Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, where the night's proceedings was simulcast across select cinemas across Canada. Coach Xi was flown in for the show.
The knockout facilities available in Huili, Liangshan, Sichuan.
Most memorable line:
"If you make the provincial team, you'll be China's official athletes. You'll be the country's people. Don't train hard and you'll be back home farming. Then you'll be no one but your mum's kid."
Amacam joker, berapa bintang lu mau kasi?
Expresses the anxieties of these people but doesn't seem to really answer the questions it raises. Still, it's a rare look-in. What I love about documentaries like these is that they usually have sad endings. As Torontonian sportswriter Alex Wong writes: "Maybe the most depressing thought is this: without ruining the outcome of his comeback fight, does it really matter whether he wins or not? How much can life change, and how many of these students can actually improve their lives through boxing." Chang's next project Eggplant, about a Chinese weddin photographer, will be his first feature. ★★★ 1/2

Trailer for the curious: