A documentary by Montreal director Yung Chang is getting a practically unheard of wide release this week in about 200 movie theatres across China.
Chang made his 2012 documentary feature, China Heavyweight, about young boxing hopefuls and a coach looking to get back into the ring, with an eye toward winning approval from government censors and appealing to Chinese audiences.
Co-produced by Montreal’s EyeSteelFilm and Beijing’s Yungfang Media, the film will be given an advertising budget that has yet to be determined by its Chinese distributor, Rear Window Distribution.
This is extremely rare for a documentary in China. The only other contemporary doc said to have had such a wide release was a French nature film, Oceans.
But Bob Moore, one of China Heavyweight’s producers in Montreal, noted that Chang’s film is the first about social issues to be placed on so many screens throughout the country.
“For us, it’s huge, because we’ve done a number of films in China. And each one kind of legitimizes [our involvement there],” Moore said.
Chang’s first feature documentary, 2007’s Up the Yangtze, garnered wide acclaim internationally.
But it did not get the stamp of approval from Chinese censors, with its beautifully shot examination of the hardships and massive social changes caused by the building of the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River.
EyeSteelFilm moved on by producing Linxin Fan’s equally acclaimed and equally uncompromising Last Train Home in 2009, a documentary that depicts the difficulties and chaos faced by migrant workers within China.
In China, it was not seen as being critical of current conditions, but was instead treated as showing the strength and determination of workers and their families. It was approved by censors, but had a smaller Chinese release, showing at universities and screening as an educational film for community groups.
Both Up the Yangtze and Last Train Home have been heavily bootlegged in China, Moore said in an interview.
China Heavyweight is an entirely different league with its wide release.
Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan was photographed in a publicity shot “giving the victory sign next to a poster of the film a couple of days ago,” Moore noted.
He added that because the Chinese co-producers have the rights to the film in China, the Montreal company will not receive a cent from its Chinese release, only publicity.
Editor's note: A previously published version of this story incorrectly stated the film’s advertising budget was around $200,000 within China. In fact, the amount has not been determined.