Former lightweight world champion Ken Buchanan (subject of
The ruthlessness of boxing has always translated well to cinematic adaptations. Raging Bull, Rocky, Fat City, and Requiem for a Heavyweight—amongst so many others—are almost unanimously considered classic depictions of a sport where brutality, suffering and perseverance often create an effortless and engaging narrative.
Documentaries like When We Were Kings and The Fight: Louis vs. Schmeling have shown ample evidence that the drama associated with the sweet science is by no means confined to the realm of fiction.
As 2012 gradually approaches its halfway point, it is time to look at a short list of boxing documentaries that have debuted or will be released before the year is out.
What is so impressive about the content of these movies is their diversity. From rural Thailand and China to International Boxing Hall of Fame inductees, the brief list that follows covers the gamut that any boxing fan could hope to see covered.
It is easy to get caught up in headline stories involving Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, and the recent Lamont Peterson drug test scandal. These documentaries show the tragic and heroic struggle of those who toil in obscurity or who have fallen from grace.
In a sense, this is the rule as opposed to the exception. The brilliance of the documentary form is that it enables the uncovering of usually untold stories with, if done properly, honesty and realism that can often shock our sensibilities.
As boxing fans, these are the stories we need to hear about in order to understand the struggle and drive to ascend to the top of such an unforgiving sport.
China Heavyweight chronicles the struggles of two teenage boxers trying to ascend the ranks of amateur and international boxing with eyes towards professional glory. The film has already been called the boxing equivalent of Steve James’ basketball documentary Hoop Dreams. If that does not tantalize you into seeing it, I am at a loss for what will.
From the trailer, we can discern a gritty, realistic portrayal of both athletic and social conditions in rural China. This facet alone should engage North American audiences in how it will challenge our perceptions of how to combat social and economic realities.
In contrasting the glamor of Western professional athletics with the struggle and desperation to succeed as means to evade poverty, China Heavyweight has the perfect framework for unforgettable human-interest stories that use boxing as a secondary means to reach its audience.
This documentary, however, will challenge its viewer’s sensibilities as it delves into the world of child boxing in Thailand with the story centering around two eight-year-old prize-fighters in rural Thailand.
Again, this film explores the widening gap and tensions between upper and lower classes, and calls into question whether the girls are being exploited or simply surviving poverty to help provide for their families as best they can.
The atmosphere at fights appears raucous and chaotic, and the film will certainly challenge viewers to consider the expectations heaped upon children. This documentary will no doubt fuel intense debate about where you draw the line between choice and exploitation.
The Boxer from Somewhere Else chronologically follows the life and career of Scottish boxing legend Ken Buchanan (61-8, 27 KOs).
Buchanan was a British and European lightweight titlist, as well as the NYSAC World lightweight champion and unified WBA and WBC lightweight world champion. He defended his world championships twice before ultimately succumbing to Roberto Duran via 13th round TKO in 1972.
While this documentary chronicles Buchanan’s triumphs and struggles, it also seems to be a well deserved homage to a man who was voted the greatest British boxer of all-time.
Interestingly, Buchanan, now in his late 60s, still spars and trains three days per week. Considering how boxing-mad the British Isles are these days, it is certainly worth taking a look at the man who became the first from that geographic area to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Passions and Struggles is unique on this list in that it flies somewhat under the radar, but that makes it no less important than the other titles mentioned.
This documentary looks at the realities of boxing, as well as its metaphorical implications. Success and discipline inside the ring are often seen as translating to success in life, and Passions and Struggles seeks to explore this connection.
Furthermore, the inherent violence of boxing clashes with its personal benefits, and the appeal of the film, to me, lies in its exploration of this issue combined with personal and every day stories.