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Dragon Girls: Martial arts students face more than physical struggles

With over 20,000 students, the Shaolin Tagu Kung Fu school is a massive and overwhelming structure. Dragon Girls follows three girls at various stages in the school.

2.5 out of 4 stars

Dragon Girls
Directed by
Inigo Westmeier

The opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games have nothing on the introductory sequences of the documentary Dragon Girls, which unfurl the remarkable – and slightly terrifying – spectacle of thousands of track-suit clad youths running through some synchronized kung fu moves.

That's business as usual at the Shaolin Tagou school in Henan province, China, an internationally acclaimed institution that's a proving ground for wannabe martial artists. Having given us a vivid sense of the school's scale and daily operations, German director Inigo Westmeier wisely zooms in on three female students, each of whom is struggling to stay on the warrior's path.

Based on the evidence here, the physical rigours of such a bone-crunching education are actually secondary to the emotional toll of homesickness and self-doubt.

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In terms of its style and structure, Dragon Girls is completely conventional, but its stubborn, earnestly striving subjects and the sprawling grounds of the school itself have definite star qualities.

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