What appears to be an endless array of people is an ocean of film lovers lined up at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. Cultural Chinese ornaments decorate the theater, and as you enter, you’re welcomed by Chinese Drill Team members. They greet you with respect and friendliness, dressed powerfully yet elegantly. The intricate uniforms are designed with red and gold accents and an elaborate headpiece. Walking around the theater, you’re immersed in a vibrant community. The diverse audience converses with one another, expressing their admiration for and acquaintance with the renowned Chinese Drill Team. They all gather to watch the documentary She Marches in Chinatown, whether they have seen the drill team at festivals and parades, are former members, or simply want to enjoy a film about local culture. She Marches in Chinatown, directed by Della Chen, produced by Amy Benson, and edited by Dina Guttman, is a magical documentary entailing the story and 71-year history of the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team. The film showcases how the team was brought together and how the organization has empowered a group of young Chinese women. It beautifully tells the story of the team while tying together themes of community and women empowerment.
As the movie starts, the lights dim and the chants of their practice take focus. In unison, they march as the team captain leads. You are automatically allured and intrigued by the cinematography, the flashing fabrics, the vibrant colors, and the precision of their march. This film uses wonderful cinematographic techniques such as birds-eye views, worms-eye views, and slow-motion videography. The combination of birds-eye views and different perspectives makes you focus on their movement. The beginning of this film was aesthetically beautiful. The camera then goes on to show the girls of the team in a Chinatown playground, having fun after their practice, and talking amongst themselves. You are shown how well-bonded these girls are, as they’ve found their community through the team. You feel like a part of them like you’re there with them.
The film then introduces the background of how Ruby Chow started the drill team and how a group of Chinese girls formed a culturally well-defined group. Their uniforms were conceptualized based on Chinese opera warriors, and their movements were surprisingly arranged with military precision in mind. Their costumes were created by Ping Chow, Mrs. Ruby’s husband, a former Cantonese opera singer. He repeatedly saw the strong female warriors portrayed in his shows and decided to infuse them into the drill team. Ruby Chow befriended a police officer who educated the drill team on military practices and marches. She was inspired to give an extracurricular activity to Chinese girls in Seattle that empowered them and gave them a sense of belonging. With her determination, the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill Team was formed. It was rather entrancing learning about the team’s origin, and especially fascinating how the Cantonese opera and military drill precision merged together, creating a very distinct, one-of-a-kind all-girls drill team. It was captivating learning about the team’s origin because it was all put together in a nostalgic way while illustrating the past of the team. It was magical to learn about the in-depth history including the intricate costume design, and the origin of their fluid marching style.
As the film progresses, it breaks into interviews with drill team members, both past and present, and archived interviews with Ruby Chow and Cheryl Chow, her daughter. Ruby was a leader in the Seattle community and the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the King County Council. Cheryl Chow took over her mother’s legacy, not only inheriting the drill team but also following her mother in politics and serving as a Seattle city council member. Both of these strong women were instrumental in representing the community, as they have worked to ensure equity and break boundaries for women in Seattle. That’s how Chows’ mission statement, and core value, was forged, “empowered women, empowering women.”
Each drill team member's interview is touching and heartfelt as they explain how the Chinese Drill Team has helped them, whether in their mental health, identity, or sense of belonging in their cultures. Most of the girls on the team are Chinese adoptees, exploring their culture through the drill team. As time progresses, the drill team also becomes inclusive of all. Anyone can join. It was really touching to see their thoughts expressed, in contrast to their performances. It truly depicts a fresh perspective, contributing to the sentiments conveyed in the film. There is a lot of authenticity throughout the interviews, and this segment was extremely pleasant.
As the film ends, you're left with a little humor, an understanding of belonging, and a sense of family. This film truly encapsulates the story of the Chinese Drill Team and leaves you with feeling inspired. Just as you think the film is coming to an end, you see bright colors, powerful chanting, and marching on the stage. The Chinese Drill Team is giving a striking live performance on stage. You can see how organized and dedicated they are while performing.
After attending multiple parades and watching their performances ever since little, it’s so exciting to see the Chinese Drill team finally up on the big screen. Since the Chinese Drill team is such a cultural phenomenon in Seattle, you’d expect numerous things to be already centered around this team. As stated by director Della Chen, “I’m surprised this documentary has never been done before; the Chinese Drill Team is just so iconic!”
The film struck an appealing combination of cinematographic techniques, humor, and emotions. All of the components were integrated together, making it a pleasure to watch. The film balanced emotions, while including more gloomy themes, making you laugh, and leaving you empowered. It wasn’t just a film that showcased techniques like cinematography and dialogue, it also balanced the techniques while emotively moving you. Compared to other documentaries, She Marches in Chinatown is an entertaining film that younger crowds would enjoy. If you are interested in viewing it on your own time, editor Dina Guttman shares where this film is being shown. "Our film is currently on the film festival circuit, but our aim is to make it accessible for school."
Their goal is to show their film in classrooms, hence the film’s length is 30 minutes. However, 30 minutes was an effective runtime for this movie. It was enough to keep the audience engaged and wasn't too extensive or overdone. If you’re interested in attending a viewing, stay up to date on current film festivals; She Marches in Chinatown may appear in the programming.
Leaving the theater and looking at the audience, many generations of drill team members lingered around the lobby. They’re all one big family, as many drill team members have relatives in the group. They have formed a sisterhood, with many aunts (drill alumni), mothers, and families attending the screening. This just shows how colossal an imprint this team has left on generations of individuals, and She Marches in Chinatown truly grasps the grit, empowerment, and love the Chinese Drill Team holds.