In "China Heavyweight," it's Qi Moxiang vs. Akihiro Matsumoto… (Liu Yang / Zeitgeist Films )
In his previous documentary, "Up the Yangtze," the Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Yung Chang used the building of a dam to explore changes in contemporary China. With the new"China Heavyweight," he explores the burgeoning world of boxing in that country.
Banned under Mao in 1959 for some 30 years, considered both a barbaric practice and also too Western, the sport of boxing has since begun to grow in China, with a national fighting style usually geared toward winning on points over knockouts. Perhaps by focusing on something that is so much an individual sport, Chang creates a deep sense of tension between singular people and the bigger concerns of history, the team or country.
The film moves crisply between the story of Qi Moxiang, an aging fighter who now scouts and coaches young students while still dreaming of getting back in the ring himself, and the travails faced by his boxers as they navigate their own responsibilities to their families and themselves.
With observant fluidity and that grounding point of Qi's desire to fight once again, Chang roots the film in personal, individual stories, keeping larger metaphors for the nation at the edges.
As "China Heavyweight" concludes and Qi pitches the sport to yet another group of schoolchildren, the looks on the young faces as they discover a sense of power within themselves, a curiosity and engagement, contain an inspirational yet bittersweet undercurrent.
"China Heavyweight." No MPAA rating; In Mandarin and Sichuanese with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.