There is no other sports documentary that so well integrates the journey of one man (Colin Pine) through the exploits of another (Yao Ming). The Year of the Yao is an entertaining film about Chinese basketball star Yao Ming’s rookie season in the NBA. Both people who know basketball and those who don’t will enjoy this film. It’s not only about basketball, in fact, not very much so but more about the life and the transition from China to the US for Yao Ming. It’s a great story and the way the story was told makes it much more exciting than your average documentary. You’re really able to get into the movie and get a glimpse of what Yao’ life was like for him in his first year in the NBA. The Year of Yao addresses such complex issues as globalization, US-China relations, and provides a behind-the-scenes peek into the daily rigors of an NBA player.
There are many shots of him on the court, sports talking heads analyzing him, and famous people providing comments (Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, even President Clinton!). Throughout, I wondered why this was in theaters, rather than on some ESPN channel. I think it’s because of the length of the work? Either way, Yao lives down to worst expectations as he struggles to find a comfort zone with new teammates. Indeed, his early efforts to play “American-style” (i.e., trash-talking, in your-face aggressive) are so wobbly that Charles Barkley promises to kiss the ass of a TNT commentator if Yao ever has a 19-point game. Many have stated that Americans see race while the rest of the world sees nation. This documentary supports that idea. Yao and the Chinese nationals interviewed here, always said “Chinese” this and that. On the other hand, all of the Americans, including Asian-Americans, said “Asian” this and that. These aspects are what make this film great and it is a shame if you pass this up because you think it is nothing but basketball.
Yao wants to advertise the sport, not race. After reading Jeffery Mingo’s review, my first impression is that the world is getting better but still exists racism. If it is really “an entirely African-American team”, does that mean white people are really so weak and can’t make the team? I feel it’s not about race. It’s about peace of love without boundaries of race, country and culture. “When you want to know your neighbors, first reach your neighbors.” The ribbing between Yao Ming and his teammate Cuttino Mobley is amusing, and the fact that Yao speaks in proverbs at times is funny, if only for it being unintentionally stereotypical. The game footage is entertaining, especially if you’re a Rockets fan, and I defy anyone to come away from this movie without tremendous respect and adoration for Yao Ming. From casual fan to NBA fanatic, I think every viewer will find something enjoyable in this movie.
The documentary is fair, objective, and deserves credit for synthesizing the dynamic world of basketball with relevant cultural topics without becoming overly generalized or banal. In the end, this is a well edited, superbly narrated depiction of two strangers navigating the rookie waters of the world’s most popular basketball league. That said, you don’t need to know a thing about basketball or Yao Ming in order to enjoy this film. It’s essentially the story of a man adapting to some serious culture shock. The only negative thing I can really point out is Ming decided to retire from basketball this year after a string of injuries. This film can now be viewed as a brilliant homage.