The Year of the Yao

"Very Good"

The Year of the Yao Review


How can you possibly not like Yao Ming, that builder of international bridges, that cultural ambassador, that symbol of good-hearted globalization, that basketball genius? The Year of the Yao gets very up close and personal, following every twist and turn of Yao's first year in America (the 2002-2003 NBA season), from the moment he's picked first in the draft by Houston to the moment many months later when, after failing to lead the team to the playoffs, he gets back on a plane to get some much needed R&R back home in Shanghai.

Produced by the NBA, there was a danger that the film could have been a hopelessly boring marketing gimmick, but co-directors Adam Del Deo and James D. Stern use their excellent access to draw a detailed and fascinating portrait of a very young (22) and very tall (7'6") man who bears multiple burdens as he tries to find his way in a new league in a new country.

Luckily the translator Houston has hired for him, Colin Pine, is ready and eager to help, if a bit nervous at first. Much of the film is narrated by Pine, and though the two seem like a bit of an odd couple at first, they bond out of both necessity and friendship, with Pine not only sticking by Yao's side through every adventure but also sharing a home with Yao and his parents to help them adjust to suburban Texas McMansion living. Their relationship is rather touching.

Yao faces challenge after challenge. First he must get to know his teammates, a rowdy but friendly bunch of cocky rabble rousers, most of whom are African-American and clearly nothing like the teammates Yao is used to. Then he tries to learn the plays, which are coded in a language that neither he nor Pine can fully understand. Then comes the pressure of the first game. (Not a good night for Yao.) And then the pressure of the first home game. (A great night for Yao.) And then the pressure of Yao's first encounter with Shaquille O'Neal, a formidable foe who also happens to make some rather ugly and stupid race-baiting comments to the press.

In between these on-court highlights are all the off-court moments that show the stoic Yao putting up with endless demands on his time. (It's not easy for the guy to walk through Best Buy unnoticed. There is much signing of autographs and posing for pictures.) He jets off to LA to make commercials with Team Yao, his entourage of mangers, agents, and handlers, in tow. In one hilarious deleted scene available on the DVD, Yao is in a limo heading to a commercial shoot when he asks for water to wash down his vitamins. Pine hands him a glass, and Yao takes a big gulp, only to discover that it's gin. He arrives at the shoot slightly buzzed and with his face flaming bright red, a typical Asian reaction to alcohol. An emergency call for Starbucks goes out as the makeup artists wonder what to do.

One wonders if The Year of the Yao might have been even more interesting if it had cast more of an eye on how bizarre American culture must seem to a foreigner, especially one who is constantly being pushed in front of the media and is surrounded by crazed sports fans most of the day. Still, there's plenty to see in this engaging film. It's impossible to take your eyes off Yao the Zenmaster. A creature of a collective society that disapproves of individual glory over team achievement, he couldn't care less about the celebrity trappings that are thrust upon him, and that's compelling to watch. It's good to know that his succeeding seasons have brought him even more acclaim.

Sorry, #10 was taken.



The Year of the Yao

Facts and Figures

Run time: 88 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 2nd June 2005

Box Office Worldwide: $38.6 thousand

Distributed by: Fine Line Features

Production compaines: NBA Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 22 Rotten: 11

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern

Producer: Adam Del Deo, James D. Stern

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