The Year Of The Yao James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo

The Year Of The Yao James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo
I was initially terrified that this documentary would push all sorts of self-congratulatory American buttons, but it manages to keep the Horatio Alger noises to a dull roar as it tells the story of Yao Ming’s first year in the NBA. The seven-foot-five Yao was already an established player in China when he became the surprise first round first draft pick for the Houston Rockets; he then endured a season of unprecedented scrutiny as not only a foreigner but the first Asian player in the NBA. Told largely through his more articulate translator, his story is one of a young man dealing with a culture not his own and pressures on which he hadn’t counted. But though his initial game inspired some of Charles Barkley’s cruellest remarks, he bounced back to become (as any sports fan knows) a star player and a force to be reckoned with. The film is a tad shaky in its attempts to explain of Chinese culture — an early montage had me cringing at its reductive assumptions — but there’s no denying that the story of Yao’s trials and triumphs makes for compelling viewing. The amount of cultural baggage he carries distances this from the average sports story, and if the filmmakers aren’t expert in what that baggage means they’re at least sympathetic to the weight on his shoulders and the fire in his belly. And it’s easy to pick up the differences between Yao and his new country through the comparison of his polite reticence and the loud, assertive rhetoric from supporters and detractors alike. It’s highly watchable, if by no means perfect. The only extra is eight deleted scenes. (Alliance Atlantis)