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Documentary looks at Chinese boxers
2013-05-23
By Brian Offenther

VIEW 1: Boxing is a brutal and depraved sport and China was wise to ban it in 1959.

View 2: Boxing is the "sweet science" and the lifting of the ban 30 years later was a boon to those who wanted to test their skills, wits and endurance in the rings.

These are two possible interpretations of "China Heavyweight," a documentary that referees any possible accusation of manipulating the subject by mitigating cinema techniques such as voice-overs, traditional narrative structure and even music.

Instead, the camera focuses tightly on the faces of the people it follows, with each sweat drop perhaps telling more than any hour and a half arc.

Perhaps. The collection of faces, especially the young ones, as they fight not just for the punch, round or win, but to bring their families out of poverty, is inspiring. But the plurality of stories and lack of linear focus make it all blend together until it blurs.

And while the movie does look good, it doesn't look that good, though it could be easily be forgiven.

One story does emerge, though, as compelling. It concerns a head boxing coach Qi Moxiang, a lean man with a youthful appearance who doesn't look nearly in his late 30s age.

Perhaps it's seeing some of his students emerging as top prospects for adult boxing camps, or word from the local government that sports will be promoted as a vehicle for international recognition.

Either way, coach Qi decides it's time to reignite his own career, in which he had once contended in China's Olympics trials. This time, he'll have a chance to fight a Japanese boxer in a match sanctioned by international boxing body WBC.

Qi has the low voice and quiet intensity of a veteran boxer - as well as the squashed nose and squared jaw. His Rocky-like story can't be denied.

While we get to know Qi, the other potential stories feel distant. Early on, Zhao warns potential recruits, "If you don't train hard, you'll end up growing tobacco." It's a grim statement supported when we see the families of some of the boxers.

However, we never get really close to any of these families, and it ends up feeling more like a social study than something personal.

It's too bad we only see close ups in "China Heavyweight," but with the exception of Qi, never feel them.

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