Motion creates emotion.
By the time the Vietnam War was over, the area was officially communist. Because Chipaul Cao‘s mother was a successful businesswoman at the time, the government came and demanded she relinquish both her factory and home. That’s when the family knew they had to escape. Maybe there was a risk of failure, capture, or death by leaving, but staying put with nothing (and little chance of improvement) was hardly a better option. The only caveat Chipaul had was the reality that he would need to say goodbye to his girlfriend of six months, Millie. It would be years before his efforts to bring her to America bore fruit and by that time they had to find careers to start a family together. Now at sixty, they’re having fun.
Laura Nix‘s documentary Walk Run Cha-Cha presents that fun via dance lessons from renowned choreographers Maksym Kapitanchuk and Elena Krifuks. It’s a cute tale of love and romance finding an outlet through the thing that brought Chipaul and Millie together in the first place. A slow dance connected them and now competitive dance keeps them young despite still working the grind of engineer and auditor respectively. But they’re happy. They have friends, enjoy practicing four nights a week, and put everything into giving the best performance they can when the moment to wow arrives. Past hardships are therefore an afterthought—a catalyst for where they are, but not necessarily who they are. It makes sense then that Nix would gloss over the drama to focus on the joy.
For better or worse, this decision does render the film as feel good fluff. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it can’t help separating its impact from that of an Oscar-nominated grouping focused on high stakes and harrowing material instead. It’s a nice change of pace in that regard because it allows us to experience a human tale dealing with life rather than death. This is a success story. The Caos prevailed despite tough times and are reaping the benefits of freedom their achievements have afforded them (even if, like most American middle class, they can’t afford to retire). We can relate to their desire to let their love bloom like it couldn’t decades earlier. We admire the life they’ve built and the inextinguishable fire burning within.