Weak structure and lack of narrative insight lets it down but the footage and access makes it impressive, shocking and interesting
This film is a behind-the-scenes look at the Shanghai Circus School where children of all ages are turned into the acrobats of the future and it is an engaging film even though it cannot fill the time allotted to it, partly due to the lack of structure normally afforded such a film by having a narration or a "message" to deliver. As it is the points being made are pretty clear and God help any gymnastics looking to come home with gold from China this year because all the film shows is constant punishing work, with perfection being received with begrudging praise when it finally comes.
The film spends all its time just pointing a camera at the work in the school and mostly this tells its own story of endless hard work and teachers who are pushed hard by their headmaster who then in turn push their pupils even harder failure for anyone here is not an option and is seen as an unforgivable crime. When I watched it I was amazed by the ability of the children, shocked by how hard they are pushed (to me a 7 year old is barely out of being called a baby) and intrigued by the culture of China that instills this work ethic of being number one. Problem is, without a real structure to the film where we are led by the hand, I found myself "getting" this within about 45 minutes which is a problem in an 80 minute long film.
This meant that there was a significant portion of the film where it was just knocking about with not much to say other than what it had already demonstrated. I'm not sure if the lack of narrative structure was part of the condition of shooting but I suspect there must have been plenty of conditions because the film is free of any sort of statistical summary in the captions or indeed any sort of judgement other than the ones suggested by what the camera caught.
So in this area it is a bit disappointing that it didn't structure itself for a stronger and more impacting delivery but fortunately it is saved by the extent of access the makers had and the way it gives this view to an audience of people, such as myself, who have no frame of reference for this culture. Shocking, impressive and interesting then, if only it had been a bit shorter and had been pushed more into a structure to make its points gradually rather than all at once and then over and over again.
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