This doc packs a punch that leaves us feeling.
Wednesday, May 2, 9:00 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Thursday, May 3, 2:00 p.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 (350 King Street West)
Friday, May 4, 9:30 p.m.
Fox Theatre (2236 Queen Street East)
More often than not, documentaries go either one of two ways. The first is the classic talking head (not the band) format, disembodied faces spewing forth knowledge on the subject at hand. The other route, direct cinema (which grew out of a time when the NFB was able to fund and support Canadian documentaries), aspires towards realism, stepping back from the subject and treating the camera as observer. Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) approaches the latter style: he immerses his camera in the Sichuan province of rural China following boxing coach Qi Moxiang as he teaches young students about fighting in the ring and, as is often the case, something about life.
Though China Heavyweight may be read as an allegory for globalization (one of the film’s few title cards notes Chairman Mao banned boxing for being “too Western and violent,” a ruling which remained for 35 years; one young boxer, Miao Yunfei, sports a Sacramento King’s jersey in training) the film transcends such questions, capturing an atmosphere and creating an almost tactile viewing experience. In one sequence, a young boxer leaves the ring victorious as the camera lingers over his shoulder, focusing in detail on the small beads of sweat as the gold medal in his hand glints at the bottom of the frame. Or, in taking up position below a punching bag, we feel the boxer’s ferocity as his body looms large above the camera, throwing himself towards us.
Lyrically and beautifully shot, with sweeping vistas of rural China, the film does not seek to predict the country’s future. Instead, China Heavyweight ruminates on a specific moment in time—which, in the end, is all we can ever know.