Directed by Peter Chan
Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles
135 minutes in duration
Leap was, without a doubt, my favorite film in 2020.
This film is a biographical sports drama that spans decades, following the journey of China’s women’s national volleyball team. More specifically, Leap tells the story of Lang Ping, who joined the team at 18 years of age (portrayed by Lang Ping’s real-life daughter, Bai Lang) and later on in her career (portrayed by Gong Li) goes on to coach both the US and China women’s teams in various Olympic competitions.
Here’s why I loved the film.
- The story itself is inspiring. While that doesn’t always make for a strong cinematic experience, Hong Kong director, Peter Ho-Sun Chan, brought it to life in a way that was both compelling and relevant. It wasn’t history for history’s sake; it shared a legacy because it’s a story that also matters today.
- The players in the cast include ten of the twelve Olympic gold medalists from China’s 2016 Rio Olympics squad.
- The strong female theme helps correct certain misconceptions that gender equality is lacking in modern Chinese culture. This simply isn’t true. It still has a ways to go, but many aspects of China are actually more progressive in this area than other countries. It should be noted that Leap was China’s submission to the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars). Though it did not receive a nomination, what is important is that China chose this film, and all that it embodies, to represent the nation.
- The main character is the sport with the team as a close second. Everything else simply supports these focal points. So, while we don’t get a lot of back story about Lang Ping and her friend (and also coach of the opposing team) Chen Zhonghe, it doesn’t matter much because that’s not what we’re here for.
- The tension between the old and new way of the sport is a perfect example of what’s taking place across China on all fronts. China is old, but it is also new. China is ahead, but it is also behind. China is an emerging market, but has also already emerged. Not all that’s old is bad and not all that’s new is good. Knowing how much to take of each will be the difference between success and failure. It is not one or the other—but as has often been noted by ChinaSource—“it’s both-and.”
- Many have slammed the film for being too patriotic. Yes, the patriotic theme is strong but what else would you expect from a story that’s centered on a national team of an Olympic sport? Regardless, I do not believe that this aspect of the film disqualifies its other merits. I have shared my thoughts on patriotic themes in Chinese movies in a previous review and fear that if patriotism becomes the first reason to dismiss a film, we may miss out on some really great cinema.
To me, this movie is about meaningful stories that inspire and empower us through soul and passion. It’s about committing your life to something and the relentless fight for excellence. I highly recommend this film and strongly suggest bringing tissues.
Editor’s note: The links in this post have been updated to reflect current streaming availability.
Hannah Lau was born and raised in Canada. Growing up with immigrant parents from Hong Kong gave her a rich perspective on both Eastern and Western cultures. She has spent her adult life in Asia, beginning in China serving through work in the marketplace. With a colorful and hard-earned career in …View Full Bio
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