Leap (2020) Review
A sports movie with heart, follow the Chinese women's volleyball team as they strive for victory in this biopic.
The Chinese entry for the Best International Feature Film at the Academy Awards, Leap follows the ups and downs of China’s national female volleyball team, with a particular focus on legendary player and coach Lang Ping and her rise to international fame with her talent and determination. Directed by Peter Ho-sun Chan, the film spans three decades as the team try and make it known to the world that they are here to stay.
Leap begins in medias res as we see an older Lang Ping (played by Gong Li) as she watches over the US team as they battle it out against China. Her old friend Chen Zhonghe (played by Huang Bo) is now the captain of the Chinese team and he begins to recount their past together.
We are transported back to the moment they met back in 1979 when he first joined the team as a hitting partner. A younger Chen Zhonghe (Peng Yuchang) soon realises how passionate and hardworking the female players are and how dedicated their coach is to them. He helps a youthful Lang Ping (Bai Lang) to train harder and eventually get her on the team as a full time player instead of a backup.
Throughout Leap, we see the sweat and sacrifices made by the team with their persistence leading to victory in their match against rivals Japan in the 1980 World Cup. The second half of the film skips closer to present day as we find out that Lang Ping moved to the US and Chen Zhonghe ended up staying with the Chinese team.
After the US win against China, Lang Ping’s loyalty is thrown into question and she decides to help her home country regain victory again. The last 40 minutes of the film show her trials and tribulations as a coach struggling to bring her team to victory while struggling with her own issues.
Leap feels extremely disjointed between the beginning arc and the final arc. The beginning of the movie feels like A League of Their Own, follows cliche sports movie tropes but does so in a loveable way. We see every member working hard despite their own challenge and learning to work together fully as a team. Once they’ve become a unit, it’s all so much easier. They show the team in the past as fun players who ended up becoming family as they spend holidays together and enjoy hanging out.
Sadly, the latter part of the film feels completely different. It feels closer to Coach Carter, with the focus shifting from the team as Lang Ping becomes the star. Both of the sections of the movie are entertaining and extremely well-acted, but just feel like two separate films. At the end of the first arc, we get credits and title screens explaining how the characters went on after which makes it feel even more like the finale.
Aside from that, Leap is thoroughly worth the watch. Sure, it follows cheesy tropes - but it works in this film. Incredibly, the volleyball scenes look phenomenal; like you are watching a match line instead of effects. Most of the actors and extras are actually volleyball players with the young Lang Ping played by her own daughter. Every cast member is diverse and full of so much character that it’s just so enjoyable to watch.
The passion from the Chinese team and the banding together of the country for a sport is truly amazing to watch. Leap is a passionate and engaging film full of vitality - one not to miss if you love sports movies.
Available to watch on Amazon Prime.