Saturday, November 8, 2014

Reel Asian Film Festival Review - 9-Man

It's the original jungle ball exclaims one player towards the start of Ursula Liang's Documentary film 9-Man. Bobby Guen the coach of the legendary Boston Nights states that other forms of Volleyball is wussy ball although well know the Knights have not one the annually Labour Title for 42 years. Guen day job is as a Dentist in Boston. He explains that when he was growing up he and other younger members of his community had no heroes. All of the dads worked long hours either in a laundry or a restaurant therefore all you saw them do was work.

9-Man is a game similar yet different to 6 player volleyball that has it's roots in Taishan, China. In Taishan its played on a dirt court. In North America the game originated in Chinatowns in the 30's thereof it was played on the available surfaces, city streets, parking lots, tennis  or basketball courts and later in gyms. One player notes that 9-Man battle scars consist of rocks in your elbows and knees.  Because of the extra three players the court is larger.  The players don't rotate and if you hit the ball off the net its gets you a 4th hit on your side. Then there are the three controversial content rules. 6 of the players have to be 100% East Asian, the other three part Asians and no women are allowed.

Director Liang film focuses on one year in the life of the game centering on a few leading teams as they prepare and build up to the Labour Day weekend championship. Bobby Guen's afore mentioned Boston Knights, Washington CYA featuring star player Patrick 2E Chin and coached by is brother Richard.  Boston Stonemasons who are labled as uncoachable personified by the hard living and playing Ty Hua and Toronto Connex known as the evil empire from the north having won 11 of the past 14 events anchored by their leader professional Volleyball player Jeff Chung.  Liang's camera follows the teams to practice, home and is even present during a Monsoon at a Washington CYA event.

Liang and Editor Michelle Chang use excellent techniques to interweave the history of the sport and rules into the story.  They present a combination of animation, still photos and lively graphics to show the essence and origins of the game. The seeds date back to the 1930's when the fall out from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act was that there were no new Chinese coming to America and those that were present were predominately male and fragmented. To preserve their culture they assembled into Chinatowns and started to play 9-man as their only recreational outlet. Because on Labour Day weekend it was only $2.00 to take the train from Boston to New York the tournament was born with Providence added as the third city. To contrast the tournament featured in the film had a $100,000 budget to spend.

The focus shifts to the actual sporting event when the 53 team Labour day tournament arrives weekend . We see the now familiar faces and teams that have been featured in the film arrive along with San Francisco Westcoast a team of admitted 9- Man and Beach ringers led by U.S. Olympic Team veteran Kevin Wong. The proceedings turn real with a brawl at the pre-tournament banquet.  Liang's Sports journalism background comes to the fore as the games take centre stage.  Multi Camera angles, well timed close ups and post game emotions are all captured by the crew.

9-Man is a well researched and presented study of a sport that is heavily entwined with the culture of the Chinese community. Many participants have long since moved away from their East Asian roots and the game is the only way they keep a part of their family heritage. Ursula Liang presents the material is a raw and surprisingly funny way. It is a film I can definitely recommend.

*** 1/2  Out of 4

9-Man | Ursula Liang | U.S.A. /China / Canada | 2014 | 87 Minutes.

Tags : Documentary, History, Content Rule, Volleyball, Chinatown, Chinese Exclusion Act | NACIVT, Labour Day Weekend , New York Mini.

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