China’s sports film frenzy fueling fitness revolution

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BEIJING, May 13: A sports film frenzy has been sweeping China this year, marked by box office sensation “YOLO,” which hit cinemas on Feb. 10 and tells the story of an obese, unemployed woman in her 30s who determines to change her life through boxing. Since February, boxing gyms across China have seen a sharp rise in members, with some people even reportedly heading straight from the cinema to the gym. Through public movie screenings, film festivals and the popularity of sports clips online, sports are playing an increasingly significant role in inspiring the Chinese people and shaping China’s culture. Many who have seen “YOLO” have cited both the film’s storyline and how lead actress Jia Ling lost over 50 kilograms for her role as sources of inspiration.

According to Meituan, a leading online services platform in China, user searches containing the keyword “boxing” surged in the first couple of weeks following the film’s release. With box office sales surpassing 3.46 billion yuan (about 487 million US dollars), it is currently the top-grossing film of the year in China. Shui Qingxia, former head coach of the China women’s national football team, said that engaging in sports is a personal challenge that activates adrenaline, noting that the popularity of related films and media has been driven by the fact that more and more people are now actively taking part in sporting activities. Industry experts say that sports films focusing on women, people with disabilities and individuals from other vulnerable groups are another major factor driving the frenzy. Sports movies screened at the Beijing International Film Festival in April included “Circle,” an animated film about a retired Mongolian wrestler finding redemption, “Girl of Wind,” a documentary short showcasing a young deaf woman’s devotion to extreme sports, and “Namcha Barwa,” a documentary focusing on a grassroots soccer team in the Xizang Autonomous Region’s Medog County.

Fan Xiaoqing, an associate professor at the Communication University of China, said that the dramatization of the underdog adds tension to sports films, which often turns them into on-screen “energy boosters.” “For me, whenever I’m almost worn out, scenes from the film pop up in my head and drive me to carry on,” said a Shanghai resident surnamed Liu, who is a fan of “YOLO” and a regular at a local boxing gym. Sports-themed film and media production used to be complex due to copyright issues and heightened requirements for filming equipment and technology, among other obstacles. But it does not take much film industry expertise to make an impact these days. Wang Junxia, who won gold in the women’s 5,000 meters at the 1996 Olympic Games and became a household name in China, proved this recently by posting a now-viral clip of her daughter running online. “Why do so many people, including myself, enjoy running despite it being so tiring? How do we make sure both our intelligence and stamina are switched on during a race?

Showing the answers to these questions might just be what makes a quality sports-themed production,” Wang said. Xu Jiren, vice president of the Chinese Football Association, said the stories and struggles of athletes behind the scenes deserve more attention, as all athletes are fighting for their dreams. Shui Qingxia is of the same opinion, and said that these real scenes and moments should feature more in sports films, including the falls and the misery. “Athletes in films are supposed to have flesh and blood as well as conviction.” Increased efforts to showcase these realities have already been made.

A recent documentary telling the story of Zhou Guanyu, China’s first-ever Formula One driver, hit screens last month ahead of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, showcasing the rising strength of sports in China and how an individual’s potential can be unleashed through globalized efforts. Experts said the sporting spirit embedded in these films can also help promote international bonds, as sports are a common language for all mankind. “We should continue discovering the essence of sports stories to produce great films, and take them beyond the barriers between cultures and territories to touch the hearts of global audiences,” Xu said.(Xinhua)

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