Blockbuster “YOLO” Sparks Boxing Craze in China

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Blockbuster “YOLO” Sparks Boxing Craze in China

  • “YOLO” was the highest-grossing film in mainland China over the Lunar New Year
  • Sales of boxing gloves and punching bags jump 60% and 40% year-over-year on Tmall

Scene from "YOLO". Photo credit: Alibaba Pictures

The success of comedy feature film “YOLO” has spurred boxing equipment sales across China as consumers look to punch their way to fitness and empowerment.

Chinese comedienne Jia Ling has captivated audiences by writing, directing and starring in “YOLO” as an overweight and unemployed woman whose life turns around when she meets a boxing coach.

Short for You Only Live Once, “YOLO” was the highest-grossing film over the Lunar New Year according to Alibaba Pictures’ promotion and distribution platform Beacon, when mainland Chinese had eight days of public holiday to celebrate with family and enjoy local entertainment.

Since its debut on Feb. 10, the film has jumped from a silver-screen hit into a pop culture phenomenon.  

Inspired by Jia’s character, Le Ying, consumers are climbing into the ring. Sales of boxing gloves and punching bags between Feb. 10 and Feb. 19 jumped 60% and 40%, respectively, from the same period last year, on Tmall, the world’s largest third-party online and mobile marketplace for retailers.

Jia says “YOLO” is about a woman “who finds herself, enjoys, and controls her own life”. Photo credit: Alibaba Pictures


“YOLO” has resonated with the wellness trend that has taken off globally since the pandemic.  

Chinese consumers have taken en masse to niche sports such as frisbee and fueled a winter sports boom, attracting the attention of skiwear brands, including Moon Boot and Perfect Moment. Meanwhile, Australia’s Swisse and Blackmores have fed their appetites for supplements.   

After pouring out of the cinemas, people searched for “fitness” on business-to-consumer marketplace Tmall, driving a sharp increase in sales for its “sports and outdoor” category. Piquing demand, Tmall hosted a Spring Festival shopping campaign over the holidays.

“Its impact goes beyond the movie itself. It has ignited the passion for life,” said Evelyne Chang at consultancy China Skinny. She noted a rise in boxing class sales across Tianjin, Beijing and Shanghai.

Jia gained 20 kg (44 pounds) for her role in “YOLO” and then lost 50 kg under a supervised boxing program. According to local media, she stayed out of the public eye to make the change in her appearance an even bigger surprise.

Weight loss aides are a perennially popular retail category. In a consumer survey last year, research consultancy Euromonitor found nearly half of the respondents looked for new solutions to help with “weight management”, more than for “stress and anxiety”.

Yet, Jia has stressed that the film is more about regaining your fighting spirit through sports than glorifying being thin.

“This film is not about weight loss, nor is it much about boxing. It’s a film that tells the story of how a kind person finds her true self and learns to love herself,” Jia told local media.

“YOLO” has proved a particular draw for female audiences, attracting the highest proportion of female viewers among films released over the Spring Festival.

“It’s about a woman transforming from a weak, kind, and people-pleasing personality into one who finds herself, enjoys, and controls her own life,” said Jia, China’s top-grossing female filmmaker.

Behind the Scenes

Films have long been highly influential in popular culture. When “Barbie The Movie” burst onto the scene last year, it was not only a box-office juggernaut but a hot retail trend.

The speed at which consumer demand waxes and wanes means brands must stay on their toes in the Middle Kingdom. In a report released this month, Forrester analyst Xiaofeng Wang suggested that overseas brands forge local partnerships to stay updated on trends and effectively adapt marketing strategies to local preferences.

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And the cinema industry is thriving in mainland China right now. Both office and admissions hit record highs over the Spring Festival.

“YOLO” grossed RMB2.718 billion ($380 million) during the eight days of public holidays and RMB3.3 billion as of Feb. 28. The hit film 热辣滚烫 in Chinese, literally meaning Hot and Spicy, is a Chinese remake of the critically acclaimed 2014 Japanese film “100 Yen Love”.

Jia was already well known in China before “YOLO” after her 2021 smash hit “Hi, Mom”, which broke the record for a Chinese New Year release and went on to become the third-highest grossing films of all time in mainland China.

Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Pictures has been center stage of a rebound in China’s entertainment scene over the past year and continued its run of hits over the crowded but highly lucrative Lunar New Year festivities. The Hong Kong-listed group co-produced and distributed “YOLO”, and also backed Pegasus 2 飞驰人生2 and Boonie Bears:Time Twist 熊出没·逆转时空.

Sony Pictures has acquired the international distribution rights to “YOLO”.

Chinese ConsumersE-CommerceInternational Women's DayLunar New YearWomen Entrepreneurs
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