Yolo (热辣滚烫) (2024)

If there is one genre of film I love the most, it’s the sport genre film. Even the weakest and lamest ones are still enjoyable but the greatest ones like Rocky and Million Dollar Baby will stay with you for life. The narrative structure employed to tell the story seldom sways too much from an established formula. The characters are archetypes: there is a skilful master and an insolent student or a team misfits. It is essentially a zero to hero story. I go into a sport genre film not looking for something that pushes the envelope but for the euphoric sense of accomplishment in the last act. Mind you, the protagonist doesn’t need to win but he or she needs to beat his or her inner demons in the arena. I feel a huge part of why I love these films is because it is a metaphor for living one’s life. I likened life to a boxing bout, a marathon or a choose-your-favourite sport. Who says your ending has been written? Nothing is set in stone yet and who doesn’t love a great comeback? YOLO (You Only Live Once) has all of these ingredients that make it an entertaining and inspiring watch.

The story concerns a social recluse Du Leying (Jia Ling) whose state of rest is the vegetative state. She is a 32-year-old woman who has no job and prefers sleeping, only waking up for meals. She lives in an apartment above a convenience store run by her mum (Zhao Haiyan) and dad (Zhang Qi). She has a younger sister, Du Ledan (Zhang Xiaofei), a divorced mum with a little daughter.

When we first see Leying in action it is her accepting an interview by her cousin Doudou (Yang Zi) for an upcoming reality TV show. Her reluctance to cooperate is evident.

After a huge row with her sister over an inheritance, Leying moves out of the apartment. She manages to find a waitressing job at a BBQ restaurant and one fateful night she has an awkward encounter with a boxing trainer named Hao Kun (Lei Jiayin). She thinks it is the beginning to something beautiful, but the guy doesn’t share the same feeling.

YOLO is a remake of a Japanese movie, 100 Yen Love (2014) which I have yet to see. I doubt the Japanese film approached the story as a comedy like what Jia Ling did who is an old hand at this – finding the funny in painful situations. The first half of the movie is a sheer downer, but the way Leying is portrayed is never as a sad and morose character. Being a layabout is her choice and if there is an award for it, nobody will be able to wrestle the gold medal from her. I find it very easy to watch even though Leying is at her lowest here. The colour palette is distinctively vivid, making the tone in the first half light when the subject matter is heavy.

There is a cool scene that perfectly delineates the movie into two separate halves. You will know it when you see it. It looks like a CGI scene of Leying climbing up the flights of stairs to her apartment on the third floor in the dead of night. There is a burst of light, then a window opens and something happens. From this moment onwards the movie becomes the hero part of the zero-to-hero story.

Perhaps it’s because of the way Leying is portrayed so light-heartedly in the first half that I don’t find her metamorphosis from a cloistered recluse to a woman willing to punch above her weight convincing. Emotionally, the punches don’t land for me. But she is such a amiable and affable character that I went with the flow. Seeing her determination to lose weight, from 105kg to 50kg through cross-training is awe-inspiring and the thought of hitting the gym after the movie crossed my mind.

There are no camera tricks here. Jia Ling went through a year of strict and punishing training to become a lean, mean, fighting machine. Not only that, she learned the skills of a boxer like it was Shaolin martial arts. The transformation is the real deal and the selling point of the movie. If she had failed to slim down and looked unconvincing as a boxer, the movie would have failed and stunk to the high heavens. She gave a 100% knock out punch here. The boxing match in the climax is against a real life boxer named Zhang Guiling and it looks like she didn’t pull any punches. Watch out for the second round which is shot in one take and witness how much pain a body can take. There doesn’t seem to be a fairytale ending coming or is there?

Then it happened. Just like Jia Ling’s first movie Hi, Mom (2021), there is an inspired scene that transcends the movie to a whole new level. Like a great sleight of hand, you will understand her character motivation for wanting to be a boxer. If the movie was coasting on a 3, it suddenly jumped to a 4. There was a hitch in my breath, a quiver in my lips and a quavering lump in my throat, the emotional punch has landed and my tears were earned.

YOLO isn’t a boxing movie, it’s a story about a woman realising she is so malleable that she has been manipulated by everyone around her. It’s a story about a woman realising her self-worth and finally understanding there is nothing wrong with self-love. It’s about a woman wanting to finally win at something through sheer perseverance and determination, so why not boxing.

4 / 5