Box office knockout: Will boxing become China’s next hottest sport?

    Chinese director Jia Ling’s latest film is sparking nationwide interest in boxing. Should luxury brands get in on the action?
    Photo: Xiaohongshu
      Published   in Consumer

    What happened

    A new film in China is smashing box office sales and sparking a new fitness craze.

    Yolo by Jia Ling, the acclaimed Chinese director of Hi, Mom, took the title of box office champion over the Spring Festival holiday, earning $450 million (3.23 billion RMB) as of February 24, according to film platform Beacon.

    The movie, which premiered on February 10, follows the story of an overweight, unemployed woman who turns her life around after taking up boxing. Jia, who also plays the protagonist, made headlines for losing over 100 pounds over the course of filming.

    Watch on YouTube

    With Jia and her character’s transformation trending on social media, interest in boxing has spiked, particularly among women looking to lose weight. Searches related to “boxing” on online retail platform Meituan have jumped 388.4 percent year-on-year since the movie’s release, while searches for “trial class for adult boxing,” “month-pass for boxing,” and “women’s boxing” increased tenfold on the Yelp-like app Dianping compared with the same period during the 2023 Spring Festival.

    The Jing Take

    On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag for the film (#热辣滚烫) has over 1.3 billion views as Chinese netizens imitate workouts from the movie or try their hand at boxing.

    Xiaohongshu user Piaofuyumao (@漂浮羽毛) shares her experience joining a women’s boxing class for the first time after being inspired by the film. “The moment I punched, I felt so powerful, like a lot of muddy thoughts were shaken off all at once,” she writes on the lifestyle platform. “After more than an hour, I took off my boxing gloves and was sweating profusely, and I couldn’t help but think, Jia Ling, you’re the real deal!”

    Jia Ling’s latest film has inspired Chinese women to try boxing. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    Jia Ling’s latest film has inspired Chinese women to try boxing. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    Brands are already starting to take note of the marketing opportunities. Prada, for one, dressed Jia for her cover shoot for Harper’s Bazaar, where she detailed her physical and psychological growth journey for the movie. The luxury house has also supplied many of her outfits as the director goes on a roadshow to promote her film.

    The film’s message about it never being too late to improve oneself aligns with Prada’s support for women’s empowerment in China.

    Prada dressed Jia Ling for her 'Harper’s Bazaar' cover shoot. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar Weibo
    Prada dressed Jia Ling for her 'Harper’s Bazaar' cover shoot. Photo: Harper’s Bazaar Weibo

    Beyond the scope of the film, there are other ways luxury brands can capitalize on this boxing craze. In the global market, Christian Dior has teamed up with professional boxers for ad campaigns, Off-White has provided attire for athletes in the ring, and Saint Laurent has created boxing apparel and training gear with Everlast. Louis Vuitton even has some ultra-rare Karl Lagerfeld-designed boxing gloves fetching five figures on resale sites.

    Granted, combat sports remain niche in China, even with the rise of female MMA stars like UFC Champion Zhang Weili. However, past fitness trends like frisbee, land surfing, and pickleball have shown that brands can still capitalize on emerging interests to raise awareness and community engagement, whether it’s by releasing special collections or hosting events.

    As fitness fads come and go, what remains constant is the country’s appetite for health and movement and Chinese women’s desire to feel powerful and confident. Brands that tap into these emotions will continue to resonate with consumers even after the initial sports hype fades.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

    Key Takeaways#

    • Yolo by Chinese director Jia Ling became a blockbuster hit during the Spring Festival holiday in China, raking in an impressive $450 million in earnings as of February 24, 2024.
    • The film’s narrative sparked a newfound interest in boxing across China, with searches for “women’s boxing” and related terms increasing tenfold on Dianping.
    • Prada seized the marketing opportunities presented by the film’s success, aligning with its message of self-improvement and women's empowerment.
    • Luxury brands can leverage emerging sports trends like frisbee, pickleball, and boxing to engage local consumers, whether through community events or co-branded equipment collaborations.
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