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The Year of The Yao

15 September 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival

You don't have to be a hoops fan to know that Yao Ming is a 7'5 inch basketball sensation from China. He's already become a big star in North America, and carries the hopes and dreams of the entire Chinese population, as the dominating center of the Houston Rockets.

The Year Of The Yao tries to gives us a look at the man behind the gentle giant during his first season as a pro, with close access to him at home, on the road, in the locker room and trying out North American delicacies like Taco Bell. What emerges is that Yao is a fascinating individual with great humor and modesty, as well as the potential to be one of the greats.

Unfortunately, that's all we really find out about the guy. Sports fans might be satisfied with this kind of standard superficial athlete profile, but the film is not likely to have much range outside of the ESPN subscriber base. Given that the project was produced with NBA Entertainment, it's no surprise. The Year Of The Yao is essentially a fluff job, designed to build a myth around their new icon, while leaving more sensitive issues like race, politics and money sitting on the bench.

In fact, filmmakers James Stern (Michael Jordan To The Max) and Adam Del Deo leaves a lot of deeper territories unexplored and untouched. Packaged with inspirational music and some over-the-top narration, the doc includes snippet insights from people like Yahoo's Jerry Yang, Bill Clinton, the Chinese Ambassador to and teammates all of whom gush about Yao's importance to Asians, international sports and (gulp!) world peace. The film's introduction about the mystery and history of China and its glorious sports culture is also quite gagging.

But as far as real insight, The Year Of The Yao presents little more than anecdotal scenes of Yao acclimatizing to American culture and the demands of a American sports career, one pampered with luxuries beyond his meager beginning in Shanghai. The only real interesting character development is his relationship with Colin Pine, Yao's young fulltime translator who is just as much of a rookie in terms of adapting to the NBA. There's not much interaction with his parents, teammates or opponents. The film is like having an all-access pass and not exploiting it for even a backstage free soda.

The film is pretty much a glossied diary following draft day 2003 through to the end of Yao's first season. A typical sports narration carries most of the drama, while insignificant drama is built up for exaggerated effect. A flippant comment by loudmouth former player turned broadcaster Charles Barkley is played for all its empty controversy. Games against Los Angeles Lakers are promoted as personal showdowns between Shaq and Yao.

More interesting might be some insight from Yao on the bling-bling culture of the league? What does he think of the Western stereotypes about Chinese people? Has he read any coverage of way his home government is presented in American news? And what about the boatload of money he's now making? Forget it, The Year of The Yao is instead more interested in being there when Yao tries his first Taco Bell Grande. Take it for what it is, this is all about selling the NBA and marketing Yao Ming.

THE YEAR OF THE YAO

An Endgame Entertainment/NBA Entertainment production

Credits:

Directors: James D. Stern, Adam del Deo

Prodcuers: Christopher Chen, Paul Hirschheimer, James D. Stern, Adam del Deo

Editors: Jeff Werner, Michael Tolajian

Creative Director: Jun Diaz

Music: James L. Venable

No MPAA rating

Running --- 88 minutes »

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