Monday, January 18, 2021

Leap / 夺冠 - Movie Review

The Movie: Leap / 夺冠

The Director: Peter Ho-Sun Chan

The Cast: Gong Li, Huang Bo, Wu Gang, Peng Yuchang, Bai Lang 

The Story: After 12 years, the Chinese women's volleyball team again reached the Olympic final. The ups and downs of the Chinese women's volleyball team for more than three decades have slowly spread away.

The Review:
I don't know a lot about the inner workings of  Chinese cinema and how much content control the government may have but I do know that a lot of the movies that come out of the country are heavy on patriotism and often have a strong nationalist sentiment. They are created to make China look good primarily to its own citizens and also to instill a sense of pride that the military and government leaders are doing the right thing for the greater good. I say all of this because you definitely get that feeling with this movie although it's not as blatant as other and the focus stays on the volleyball players instead of diving into any sort of political commentary.

Leap is a retelling of the real life women volleyball players who brought the sport to prominence in China to the point where they were looked at as national heroes and icons as members of the national team. Lang Ping, the primary character in the story, is played by both her real life daughter as her younger self and by Gong Li during the time when she has gone on to coach for team USA and then later on for China. The two performances are the heart of the story and, as you might expect from a dramatic sports movie, the inspiration for a lot of the emotional impact. In a way, this is two different movies, the first half being set in the 80's when the team came to prominence and then the second half focusing on Lang Ping bringing them back in the mid 2010's.

One of the highlights of the movie is the beautiful cinematography and the amazing camerawork while filming real games to get as authentic of a look and feel as possible. The movie keeps you right in the middle of the action and you can feel the energy of the players along with all of the drama and emotion of each game they played. The way the movie is filmed also emphasizes the unique and incredible talents of the volleyball players as you get to see up close and personal the amazing athletics feats they achieve in a seemingly routine manner. It really is beautiful to watch these premier athletes competing at the highest level and in a way that you don't normally get to see.

At times, the movie feels a bit long and drawn out although there's a lot of ground to cover and plenty of story to tell so I was okay with it. There are times where the movie has more of a documentary feel to it, especially in the more recent times probably because real volleyball players and current members of the national team are used to either play themselves or other women. Still, the director Peter Ho-Sun Chan is proficient in keeping the drama and narrative in place. It was really interesting to learn about these women and to understand what they went through in their training as they worked towards becoming the best in the world.

The Verdict:
Leap is a love letter to the women of the Chinese National Volleyball Team and the extreme efforts they endured to achieve such an amazing level of success. Lang Ping should be considered one of the greatest success stories in all of sports.

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