'Leap' shows the spirit of Chinese women's volleyball team

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, January 22, 2020
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A poster for the movie "Leap." [Photo courtesy of Bravo Entertainment]

Peter Chan's much-anticipated sports film "Leap" will hit Chinese theaters on Jan. 24, Chinese Lunar New Year's Eve– one day earlier than the original release date -- to give it a head start in the hotly competitive race amongst blockbusters during the Spring Festival holiday.

The movie shines a spotlight on the Chinese women's national volleyball team. Depicting the struggles of several generations of the Chinese team in their attempts to achieve glory for their country, the film spans a total of 35 years from 1981 to 2016.

"Leap" premiered in Beijing on Sunday night to rave reviews. The 135-minute film is an inspiring production that looks set to resonate with Chinese people and evoke nostalgic memories.

The Chinese women's national volleyball team has been the pride of the nation since it first claimed the FIVB Women's World Cup in 1981. The team also beat Serbia on Sept. 28, 2019, defending its crown with a record 11 wins. This marked China's 10th title in major world volleyball events, including the World Cup, World Championships and Olympics.

Director Peter Chan, who is best known for such movies as "Comrades: Almost a Love Story," "Perhaps Love," "The Warlords" and "American Dreams in China," revealed the difficulties behind production at the film's premiere. For example, the crew built a volleyball training base in Beijing by taking apart and moving the original wooden floor from the base used in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, in order to recreate the original atmosphere. "The floor still shows the blood, tear and sweat left by the women's volleyball team members back in the 1980s," Chan noted.

He added that he encountered many difficulties and challenges, such as when casting real athletes as actors and trying to reenact the classic volleyball matches, "Every time I wanted to give up, I thought of coach Lang Ping's words: 'The spirit of the women's volleyball team is not to win the championship, but to fight tooth and nail even though they know they may fail.' This is a film with a sense of mission."

Lang Ping -- the most iconic Chinese volleyball player in history -- is the central character of the film. Along with her team members, Lang won gold at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, defeating the United States. In 1995, she became the head coach of the Chinese national team and eventually guided the squad to a silver medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. 

Director Peter Chan and the cast of "Leap" pose for a group photo at the film's premiere in Beijing, Jan. 19, 2020. [Photo courtesy of Bravo Entertainment]

After taking the job as head coach of the United States women's national volleyball team in 2005, she took the team to silver at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Lang returned as head coach of Team China in 2013, triumphantly winning the World Cup in Japan in 2015 as well as gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. With this victory, Lang became the first person in volleyball history, male or female, to win gold at the Olympic Games as both a player and head coach.

Though Lang was absent from the premiere, her daughter Lydia Lang Bai, who plays her mother when she was younger in the film, was in attendance. Meanwhile, legendary Chinese actress Gong Li plays Lang Ping during her coaching years.

However, both women were initially hesitant about taking on their roles when Peter Chan first approached them. Bai was concerned about not being a professional actress, while Gong felt she couldn't take the heavy burden of portraying such an iconic Chinese figure. At last, they were persuaded, and both have given excellent performances under Chan's directing and coaching.

Many of the actors and actresses in the film spoke at the premiere of their honor in taking part in the film.

"Leap" is likely to be the first in a series of Chinese sports-themed films. There has long-been a lot of untapped potential for Chinese films in the genre, despite the obstacles faced by filmmakers in portraying sports figures. The 2017 Indian wrestling film "Dangal" showed the huge potential in the Chinese market after grossing nearly 1.3 billion yuan at the box office. Another sports film directed by Chan, this time about the first Chinese and Asian Grand Slam singles tennis champion Li Na, is also expected to arrive in theaters in the near future.

To create a buzz for the film, the producers of "Leap" enlisted veteran pop singers Na Ying and Faye Wong to sing the theme song. 

Lydia Lang Bai, the daughter of Chinese volleyball icon Lang Ping, poses for photos at the premiere of "Leap" in Beijing, Jan. 19, 2020. [Photo courtesy of Bravo Entertainment]

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