Published: 10:48, February 22, 2024 | Updated: 10:48, February 22, 2024
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Box office hit sparks boxing frenzy
By Zhao Yimeng

A citizen walks past movie YOLO posters at a cinema in Hangzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province, Feb 16, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

A new film featuring an overweight woman who regains her self-esteem after taking up boxing has sparked a wave of interest in the sport all over the country, especially among women.

In the film YOLO, short for You Only Live Once, protagonist Du Leying achieves fitness and rebuilds her confidence by taking up boxing. Off screen, Jia Ling, the director of the film who also played the role of Du, made headlines by losing about 50 kilograms over the course of filming.

YOLO topped China's box office during the Spring Festival holiday and has so far grossed over 3 billion yuan ($420 million), with both Du's and Jia's physical and psychological transformation trending on social media platforms.

Since the movie premiered on Feb 10, online searches related to "boxing" have increased 388.4 percent year-on-year, and the major review platform Dianping saw a 337.53 percent increase in comments, data from e-commerce platform Meituan shows.

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Keyword searches for "adult boxing", "boxing experience course "and "girls' boxing" have spiked in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen in Guangdong province, Chengdu in Sichuan province, and Hangzhou in Zhejiang province.

Meituan data shows that women accounted for 67 percent of those searches on its platform.

Qu Zhongyuan, head of a Hurricane Fight Club boxing gym branch in Beijing's Chaoyang district, said the number of women coming to his gym wanting to learn boxing has soared lately.

"Most of them have been inspired by Jia. They have a strong desire to lose weight," Qu said. "Boxing stands out as the fastest calorie-burning exercise among all sports."

A citizen walks past movie YOLO posters at a cinema in Hangzhou City, east China's Zhejiang Province, Feb 16, 2024. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

The 35-year-old coach started to learn boxing when he was 9, and has worked in the field for 11 years. He said that although more women have been seeking his advice about the sport thanks to the movie, women outnumbered men at his gym even before the film premiered.

Since his gym opened in 2022, women have accounted for about 60 percent of his boxing students.

"Most of these women learn boxing for self-defense or stress relief," Qu said, adding that normally, the initial goals are met after training for more than a year.

"One of the reasons boxing is so popular among women is that it helps get rid of pent-up stress through all that punching, and it aligns with the human urge to vent frustration through physical activity," he said.

Kong Li, ages 7, has been learning to box for about half a year. She pesters her parents to get her to the boxing gym on time and sometimes practices at home with her father.

"She usually shouts as she punches, and I can feel her sense of power," said her father, Kong Dejian, a lecturer at China University of Political Science and Law.

Kong said that although he knows about the film, it is not the reason he wanted his daughter to try the sport. In reality, boxing training is primarily driven by interest rather than inspirational stories.

"I hope that doing the exercises will make her healthy while teaching her to protect herself if she encounters danger," he said.

Though the intense training comes with the risk of acute injuries, Kong said he is not unduly worried, as professional coaches can take good care of the trainees.

"Even if she does get injured, it's a normal process that raises a child's awareness about the need to bear risks," Kong said.


Beijing resident Guo Xiaojun took up boxing in 2022 when she adopted a comprehensive fitness plan that included aerobic exercise.

The 30-year-old preschool teacher registered for boxing courses with a professional coach at the gymnasium where she regularly works out.

"The most attractive aspect of boxing is the cathartic release you experience with every punch thrown. I usually engage in the sport during my lunch break at work, which helps revitalize my energy," she said.

Guo has recommended boxing to many of her female friends. "I'm glad to see that more people have been encouraged by the movie and are paying attention to the sport," she said.

Boxer Wang Yanni has noticed more overweight women appearing in the boxing gym for consultations after the Spring Festival holiday, coinciding with the success of YOLO at the box office.

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Wang, who has been a fitness enthusiast for two decades and has three years of boxing experience, said the movie can promote the development of combat sports in China, attracting more boxing coaches from abroad and boosting the domestic industry.

However, she warned women against believing that they could lose 50 kg just by undergoing boxing training.

"Big women barely showed up in the boxing gym before, as combat sports are not suitable for them and may hurt their ankles, especially if they are fitness novices," Wang said, suggesting jogging and maintaining a healthy diet instead.

Like many female boxers, Wang said she is fascinated with improving her strikes and throwing powerful punches, conquering her fears in the process.

"The goal of experienced boxers is not to lose weight. The excitement of learning techniques and challenging ourselves makes us keep practicing," she said.

Guo, the preschool teacher, also called for regular training rather than an impulse triggered by an inspirational movie.

"Sometimes it's necessary to try a new sport on a whim, but working out is far more involved than making a sudden decision or chasing a fad. The nature of sports is the pursuit of a more positive and healthy lifestyle," Guo said.

Coach Qu said that people should ease themselves into training gradually, and it is crucial to follow the guidance of a professional coach to prevent injuries.