Basically the Chinese boxing equivalent of Hoop Dreams, this film follows two boxing coaches and two boxers over a couple of years or so as they attempt to use boxing to get out of rural life in China and as one coach decides to come out of retirement.
The film is overly impressionistic and, for those of us who don’t know much about boxing in China or boxing in general, there is not enough context to get truly invested in the stories of the boxers and coaches. (Especially since it’s not always entirely clear who the protagonists are.)
There are other problems: the dialogue feels forced and we wondered how much of it was written for those on camera or otherwise staged. (Perhaps they were just awkward.) Some of the scenes feel like they were recreated (though not the boxing scenes).
When the film works, though, it works well, both as a portrait of contemporary life in modernizing China and as a depiction of boxing.
Some of the best parts of the film focus on daily life in China, featuring members of the cast just living life. Also, it’s always a treat to see a well-shot film of a place you’ve ever been to, and there are some gorgeous shots of rural China as well as some incredible shots of urban China, albeit the smaller cities we never hear about.
Also, the boxing is super well shot, particularly the climactic match when the coach comes out of retirement. It’s the most effective part of the movie for me and one of the rare times in a film where a director is able to balance the feel of disorientation with a clear sense of what is actually happening.
But overall, I found the movie just too damn impressionistic. I could have used a little more context or scene-setting and maybe a little more of a conventional approach given how unfamiliar I am with the subject of boxing in China.