China Heavyweight is beautifully-shot documentary about overcoming adversity and doing whatever it takes to become a champion.
Serving as a follow-up to Yung Chang’s 2007 film Up in Yangtze, the Chinese-Canadian director takes his viewers back to China and introduces them to three men involved at a boxing academy in Southwest China. Qi Moxiang, is a state boxing coach who searches for raw talent in village schools and rural tobacco fields of the Sichuan province. A former boxer himself, Moxiang longs to have one more shot at victory after losing an Olympic qualifying match from a previous year. The younger boxers on the other hand, are Miao Yunfei and He Zongli. Chosen to go into elite training, both hope they won’t spend their lives as tobacco farmers.
Having its Canadian premiere at the HotDocs film festival in Toronto, this film takes an observational approach into showing Coach Qi’s dedication to the sport and the lives of two aspiring boxers who vie for a better life outside the village they grew up in.
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 with several intimate and personal scenes involving the characters and their families, having to shoot in such close settings isn’t always easy.
“We tried to build trust and a relationship with the characters,” said Chang, noting that he wanted to give the audience the vision that the film was “almost in the mind of the subject”.
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.