Brazilian Leonardo Leal de Freitas in a scene from the documentary Wing Chun Leo.[Photo provided to China Daily]
Every year, Brazilian Leonardo Leal de Freitas travels halfway around the world to China. The 38-year-old from Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, has a dream to stay in the Middle Kingdom and teach martial arts skills as a profession.
In the short film Wing Chun Leo, Freitas documents his quest to seek martial arts masters in the hometown of kung fu giant and Hollywood legend, Bruce Lee.
Alongside three other documentaries-Foreigners at Langmu Temple, The Food Mawla and China's Greatest Treasures-Wing Chun Leo has been recognized as the best short documentary in the 2019 Golden Ribbon Multinational Coproduction Series, an annual project to encourage productions reflecting exchanges among countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Jointly sponsored by China International Television Corp and the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, the project was one of the highlights of the recent 2019 Belt and Road Media Community Summit Forum in Beijing, which drew nearly 400 participants from 43 countries and regions to the Chinese capital in mid-September.
A bit different from previous documentaries about kung fu, director Han Yan says Wing Chun Leo marks the crew's first attempt to introduce the eponymous traditional martial arts style to the audience through the eyes of a foreign enthusiast.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Freitas started to learn Chinese martial arts when he was around 8 years old. Six years ago, he began studying Wing Chun, a kung fu style widely practiced in Southern China's Guangdong province.
He traveled to Zhuhai in Guangdong to seek further coaching from renowned master, Duncan Leung, who once studied alongside Bruce Lee under the legendary Ip Man-the inspiration for Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-wai's Oscar-nominated film, The Grandmaster.
Freitas practices martial arts with He Liangxing (right), a kung fu master.[Photo provided to China Daily]
Leung moved to the United States and, in 1974, opened a martial arts club in New York. As his reputation grew, Leung was invited to teach elite operatives within the US law enforcement and military community, including FBI agents and US Navy SEALs. In recent years, however, the 77-year-old master retired and returned to China.
In the summer, Leung suggested to Freitas that he should visit He Liangxing, a former fellow apprentice, in Shunde district in Foshan.
"For me, the main reason that I chose to practice Chinese kung fu is because of Bruce Lee. I think I am Chinese in my heart," says Freitas in the documentary.
"Another thing is about real fighting. Wing Chun is about how to finish fights very quickly and also how a small guy-or a woman-can deal with a very big guy," he explains.
In a quest to polish his skills and open his own martial arts school in China, Freitas has planned to stay in Foshan for six months.
According to local newspaper, the Foshan Daily, there are at least 52 kung fu styles in the city, being taught in nearly 300 martial arts schools. Those schools have spawned around 6,000 martial arts institutions in 176 countries and regions that boast in excess of 10 million total practitioners.
As a foreigner who loves Chinese culture, Freitas has picked liu as his new name. A Chinese character for the number six, it has a similar pronunciation to Leo, an abbreviation of his first name, Leonardo.
Huang Heshan, Freitas' fellow apprentice, says Freitas, who is married and has a daughter, is still childlike.
Huang adds that Freitas is very focused on practicing Wing Chun, saying that he is already well versed enough to open a school, but he still needs to learn more about Chinese culture and etiquette.
Approaching the end of the documentary, Freitas' dream is somewhat realized, as least for a moment, when he is taken by his master, He, to a local primary school to teach Wing Chun to more than 1,000 Chinese children.
"China is both an old and a modern nation. People know the essence of Chinese kung fu in many ways. I'm glad for this Shunde trip, which has strengthened my confidence to stay in China," says Freitas.
Producer Li Jianjun says the documentary will likely be aired by broadcasters within the Belt and Road Media Community to expand the popularity of kung fu in overseas markets.
As a global alliance of television media organizations, the community, which was launched in 2016, has now accumulated 130 members from 58 countries and regions.