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Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers #8: Yung Chang, 'China Heavyweight'

By Indiewire Staff | Indiewire January 5, 2012 at 12:30PM

Unknown Object"China Heavyweight" (alternative title: 千錘百煉, screening in the World Documentary competition at Sundance) documents the industry of Chinese boxing coaches recruiting talent from remote rural areas of the country. Director Yung Chang ("Up the Yangtze") told Indiewire that the film was inspired by such films as "Raging Bull" and "Enter the Dragon," and he confessed to Indiewire that a Mike Tyson cameo never materialized. The up-and-coming doc director is now hard at work at a documentary called "The Fruit Hunters," a film about the fruit underground based on the book of the same name by Adam Gollner.
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"China Heavyweight" (alternative title: 千錘百煉, screening in the World Documentary competition at Sundance) documents the industry of Chinese boxing coaches recruiting talent from remote rural areas of the country.  Director Yung Chang ("Up the Yangtze") told Indiewire that the film was inspired by such films as "Raging Bull" and "Enter the Dragon," and he confessed to Indiewire that a Mike Tyson cameo never materialized.  The up-and-coming doc director is now hard at work at a documentary called "The Fruit Hunters," a film about the fruit underground based on the book of the same name by Adam Gollner.

What's it about?  千錘百煉 means "To be tried and tested a thousand times." This is a kung-fu meets boxing documentary about a coach & his 2 boxers in new China.

Says director Yung Chang: "For someone like myself, who grew up in two worlds, it is inevitable that you love kung-fu movies (the Chinese side) and boxing movies (the American side). I've always wanted to make an action film and somehow my decision to make this film began with the idea of melting two genres of kung-fu and boxing into an 'action documentary.' From 'Body and Soul' to 'Million Dollar Baby' or '36 Chambers of Shaolin' to 'Enter the Dragon,' movies about boxing and kung-fu transcend action and become metaphors for the challenges of life and the willpower of the human spirit. I chose to tell this story because the subject was boxing but the story was about respect, honor, and perseverance - virtues at their greatest test in a changing China.

"When you make a documentary like "China Heavyweight" where youingratiate yourself into the lives of others for three years, live with your subjects, listen to your subjects and film them incessantly, it is impossible that your subjects remain only just that. Your subjects become friends and confidantes. They share because you share. During the shoot, I grew to feel deeply for the main protagonist, Coach Qi. I looked up to him. I admired his tenacity and his passion. I saw in him a reflection of past mentors and teachers that influenced me.

An image from "China Heavyweight."
An image from "China Heavyweight."

"I love movies. Ever since I was a kid and my dad would set up his super-8 projector in the basement and rent black-and-white movies from the library, I have loved movies. Movies are visceral, they are cathartic, they are spiritual. I love the experience of going to watch movies in a dark theatre with a full audience. I love being emotionally moved, to be shaken alive, to feel a sense of the wider world and how we fit in it. There's a universality to story-telling through films. It really doesn't matter what country the film is from or in what language, we are linked by the zeitgeist of human stories. I chose filmmaking because it wasn't quite enough for me to be a viewer, I wanted to get closer into that experience. The process is not easy. I'm always a learning and making mistakes and feeling my way through it. Filmmaking is like therapy. Maybe that's really why I chose this profession."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2012 festival.

Keep checking here every day up to the launch for the latest profiles.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers, China Heavyweight