‘YOLO’ leads to fitness fever while topping box office
Sports craze
Published: Feb 25, 2024 09:38 PM
Promotional materials for Chinese movie <em>YOLO</em> Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Promotional materials for Chinese movie YOLO Photo: Courtesy of Douban

This Spring Festival season, YOLO by Jia Ling, Hi, Mom's director, has emerged as the reigning champion at the Chinese box office, garnering a staggering 3.23 billion yuan ($450 million) by Saturday afternoon, according to data from film platform Beacon. The film is also likely to launch concerts, which haven't been officially announced yet, according to domestic media reports. Amid all the hype, the film has contributed to a craze for sports and fitness among a vast audience nationwide.  

Three years ago, Jia made waves with her self-written, self-directed, and self-starred comedy Hi, Mom. While Sony Pictures announced that it was remaking the film in 2023, the company also acquired international distribution rights to Jia's 2024 comedic triumph YOLO

Adapted from the 2014 Japanese movie 100 Yen Love, YOLO centers on the transformation of Le Ying, the protagonist portrayed by Jia. Le is an unemployed woman in her 30s still living with her parents whose life transforms after meeting a boxing coach that changes her life. 

The 41-year-old director and actress' commitment to shedding 50 kilograms to portray a boxer and the intense physical training scenes in the film not only provided viewers with an audiovisual feast but also deeply resonated with the public's fitness aspirations.

"The film established a strong bond with the audiences. While themes like weight loss, fitness or personal transformation are familiar to the public, the film picked the niche focus of boxing to connect with Jia's personal journey of weight loss. Based on Jia's previous success in Hi, Mom, the attraction of her personal IP is also a contributing factor to the film's success at the box office," Zhang Peng, a film researcher at Nanjing University's National Research Center of Cultural Industries, told the Global Times. 

Fervor for boxing 

Inspired by the film, a growing number of people have kicked off their journey of fat trimming and body sculpting.

According to data from China's online retail platform, Meituan, since YOLO premiered on February 10, searches related to "boxing" have increased by 388.4 percent compared with the same period in 2023. On another platform Dianping, searches related to "boxing" increased by 257.2 percent. Particularly, keywords such as "trial class for adult boxing," "month-pass for boxing," and "women's boxing" increased more than 10-fold compared with the same period during the 2023 Spring Festival.

"Many customers have mentioned the film and Jia's transformation, and they are inspired by it. The film appears to have sparked the public's interest in fitness, boxing, as well as functional training as seen in the film. With this surge in interest, we have launched a promotion to let people take a free trial boxing class with a YOLO movie ticket," Xu Ke, a boxing coach at Extreme, a chain fitness center in Beijing, told the Global Times.  

Xu has watched the film as well and he believes that the film leveraged its influence to help the general public understand boxing more and deepen enthusiasts' love for the sport, helping the development of professional boxing in China. He also noted that the film may contribute to promoting mass sports in the country. "Currently, the number of people participating in sports in China is less than in countries in Europe and North America. China's competitive sports, such as Olympic events, mainly rely on the national system and professional athletes, with limited participation from the general public."

Promotional materials for Chinese movie <em>YOLO</em> Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Promotional materials for Chinese movie YOLO Photo: Courtesy of Douban

Positive development

Hurricane Beitucheng Branch, a chain boxing training center, shared Xu's view. 

"Indeed more people came to inquire about boxing classes since the film's release. I think it's a positive development in the fitness industry, especially for boxing training. Hopefully, there will be wider participation in sports and will better contribute to mass sports in China."

In the film, the protagonist also does a lot of strength training and functional training to improve her performance. While limited, more and more CrossFit training centers have opened in China as well.  

"We opened this center in the hope that through sports, we will bring better health and a positive attitude toward life," Deng Boyang, coach at Chi Heng, a CrossFit training center in Beijing told the Global Times. 

The development of CrossFit has been sluggish in recent years, but in 2023, physical fitness variety shows on major platforms have had a publicity and promotion effect for CrossFit, which was a good thing and helpful for the business, Deng pointed out.

"Yet I think this kind of fad is only temporary and won't last long. Unbeatable [a film about boxing] by Nick Cheung and To the Fore [a film about cycling] by Peng Yuyan [Eddie Peng] also spurred such crazes but not many people lasted till the end of their fitness goals like in these movies."

Similar to CrossFit, mixed martial arts (MMA) has also remained a relatively niche sport in terms of public participation, but is gaining increasing public attention due to China's famous athlete Zhang Weili. 

The Black Tiger Fight Club MMA gym in Beijing is where China's first and only UFC champion, Zhang Weili, trains. During recent media interviews, Jia revealed that she considered Zhang as her idol.  

"Zhang has shown us and the world the strength and power of Chinese women. Now audiences nationwide have seen Jia's transformation. In a sense, they both can be considered as role models that we need in this era," a person in charge of the club told the Global Times. "In terms of the development of MMA, China has great potential and bright prospects. We hope more and more people can join MMA or other forms of sports, not only for a better look but for a better outlook."