Leap, a Patriotic Chinese Movie is Teaching Disney how to Appeal to Chinese Audiences

Featuring the past achievements of the Chinese women’s volleyball team, the Chinese movie Leap was released on Sept. 25, about one week before China’s National Day holiday.

This movie was originally named ‘Chinese Women’s Volleyball Team’ and was scheduled to appear in Chinese cinemas during the Lunar New Year season in late January. But facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and protests from former Chinese national team head coach Chen Zhonghe, the movie was pulled from cinemas right before the Lunar New Year holiday season and was forced to edit several scenes that sparked criticisms.

Those challenges did not seem to have major impacts on its box office performances. According to industry tracker Maoyan, the movie had an $8.2 million opening day, a number that outperformed the high-profile Disney-produced Mulan.

SEE ALSO: Despite Ambitious Hopes, Mulan Fails to Impress at Box Office, Chinese Fans Left Disappointed

China-born Singaporean actress Gong Li takes a leading role in ‘Leap’ as legendary Chinese volleyball player and coach Lang Ping. The movie featured key achievements and highlights of the Chinese Women’s volleyball team over the past 50 years. This team had a long history of success, including dominating the world stage in the 1980s and winning the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Leap was scheduled to feature both Chen Zhonghe and Lang Ping, the two head coaches whom both won gold medals at the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2016. However, following a protest from Chen on some of the scenes that stigmatized his character, the edited version released in September mainly focused on Lang Ping and did not mention Chen’s name in the movie at all.

The movie Leap had several unique features to attract viewers: Bai Lang, the daughter of Lang Ping, portrayed Lang Ping in her 20s in the movie. Several former and active National Volleyball Team players also appeared in the movie, including Zhu Ting, the highest-paid volleyball player in the world. Those real-life athletes made the scenes in ‘Leap’ more vivid and appealing. These athletes became household names in China after their success in Rio and their continued dominance in international competitions. The presence of leading actresses, together with actual athletes, both increased the number of viewers coming into the cinema.

A review from South China Morning Post attributes the success of Leap to: ‘China’s lucrative game of patriotic filmmaking’. There are numerous scenes from the movie that show efforts from the production team to appeal to Chinese audiences by highlighting the achievements of China’s economic reform in the late 1970s through the lens of volleyball. Leap featured the hardships that female Chinese volleyball players in the 1980s faced on their paths to becoming world champions: Poor training facilities, lack of professionals and game experience, and little knowledge about the outside world.

Those difficulties contrasted with the national team’s equipment, facilities, and staffing options in the 2010s. From utilizing the latest technologies to win games to having more accommodating training schedules for players, Leap implied the positive changes that economic reforms brought to China and to how the country views volleyball, the Olympic Games, and international sports competitions. By demonstrating that Chinese national teams are adapting new training methods based on science and professional developments, the movie shows the transformational changes that China experienced in the past 40 years.

The Chinese Women’s National Volleyball Team was highly respected in China in the 1980s because of its achievements on the international stage. The team is often regarded as a group that demonstrates diligence, talent, and strength of the nation. The Chinese Women’s National Volleyball Team is also one of the best performing teams in the country with three Olympics titles, five World Cup titles, two World Championship titles, and eight Asian Game titles. Women’s volleyball is also China’s best team sport event in the Olympics.

Lang Ping, the incumbent coach for the Chinese Women’s National Volleyball Team, is one of the players from the 1984 Olympics champion squad. She also coached the US National Team from 2005 to 2008 and led the US team to claim the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Lang became the Chinese national team coach for the second time in 2013 and led the team to its success at the 2016 Rio Olympics. The gold medal in Rio made her the first person in the history of volleyball to win Olympics titles both as a player and as a coach.

The Chinese Women’s National Volleyball Team is currently ranked as the No.1 team as of October 2020. The team has already qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and will be defending its Olympics title next year.

Having similar goals to appeal to Chinese audience, Leap is having a better performance than the Disney-produced Mulan. While both movies featured traits such as dedication, commitment, and hardworking efforts to attract movie viewers in China, Leap featured the more appropriate angles and attained better outcomes than Mulan’s story. From contrasting scenes that demonstrate China’s growing economy and confidence in the past 40 years to featuring a more tangible story that most Chinese audiences can relate to, Leap shows Disney and other movie production teams a better way to appeal to the Chinese movie market.