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9-Man: A Streetball Battle in the Heart of Chinatown

2014
Distributed by The Center for Asian American Media, 145 Ninth St., Suite 350, San Francisco, CA 94103
Produced by Ursula Liang and the Center for Asian American Media
Directed by Ursula Liang
DVD, color, 89 min.
High School - General Adult
Sports, Chinese Americans, Volleyball


Reviewed by Gary D. Byrd, University at Buffalo (SUNY)

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 10/27/2015

This unique documentary focuses on a relatively unknown annual tournament of 9-Man street volleyball played by teams of young men drawn from Chinatown communities across the US and Canada. The film documents a gritty, exciting, very athletic, and sometimes chaotic urban sport as it is currently played and also helps us understand its complex history starting in the 1930’s when American anti-Chinese sentiment and laws forced young men (mostly restaurant workers and laundrymen) to socialize and find sports outlets within their small Chinatown communities. This 9-man version of volleyball (vs. the usual 6-man format), also helped these teams to effectively compensate for the shorter stature of most Chinese men and simultaneously produce an extraordinarily athletic and fast-paced game with amazing long points.

In addition to presenting a very dramatic story of the players and coaches and their triumphs and defeats in preparation for the annual tournament, the film also does an excellent job of helping the viewer to understand the complex social forces surrounding this sport. Our increasingly integrated world is bringing calls to open the sport to other Asian, minority and ethnic groups; and at the same time these Chinatown communities are also struggling to maintain the autonomy and wonderful positive tradition of their unique sport.

9-Man is Ursula Liang’s first and only film project as director, and she also took on the roles of cinematographer, sound recordist and producer. Prior to 9-Man, Liang also assumed various producer roles for three other documentaries (one for TV). Her work on 9-Man has been recognized with awards at four different film festivals and it was aired as part of PBS’s America ReFramed series.

The film is first a very entertaining sports film appropriate for general audiences ranging from teenagers to adults. As a documentary vividly illustrating the cultural anthropology of the North American Chinatown communities that have supported this sport over the past 80 years, it will be a valuable education resource for college and university Asian studies programs. Finally, the film’s website includes an attractively-designed, full-color, printable booklet (A 9-Man Guide to Chinatown) with maps, play and tournament schedules, and lists of nearby restaurants, restrooms, bars and clubs in each city where the sport is regularly played (New York, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco, Montreal, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles).

Awards

  • Winner of the Documentary Feature Competition, CAAMFest, San Francisco, March 2015
  • Special Jury Award for Best Documentary Director & Audience Award, L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, 2014
  • Audience Award, Boston Asian American Film Festival, 2014
  • Grand Jury Award, Austin Asian American Film Festival, 2014