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THE YEAR OF THE YAO
USA: Fine Line Features
Cast: Yao Ming, Colin Pine
Directors: Adam Del Deo, James D Stern
Countries: USA / China
USA: 89 mins
USA Rated: PG for some mild language
USA Release Date: 29 April 2005 (Limited Release - wider)
USA Release Date: 15 April 2005 (Limited Release)
Yao Ming - He stands 7 feet 6 inches tall and is just 22 years old. To the Chinese nation of one billion, he is a heroic son and symbol of its increasing presence on the world stage. To the National Basketball Association, he is a poster child for the globalization of the sport and potentially its first iconic superstar from outside North America and Europe. To his team mates on the Houston Rockets, he is the key to a successful championship season. To basketball fans, comedians and even commentators in his field, he is an anomaly: the tallest player in the NBA and Chinese. To his supportive parents, both of whom preceded him as members of the Chinese National Basketball team, he is simply "son." To a young American interpreter with a passion for Chinese language and culture, he is initially a client for interpretation services ... and eventually, over the course of a year, a close and valued friend. THE YEAR OF THE YAO is James D Stern and Adam Del Deo's exciting, inspiring chronicle of Yao Ming's tumultuous first year in the NBA.
From Shanghai to Seattle; locker room to living room; commercial shoot to Christmas Day, Stern and Del Deo are there to document Yao's journey into new cultural, professional and social spaces. The resulting film is a portrait of uncommon grace under pressure, as Yao maintains his professionalism, humor and humility despite an enormous burden of expectations. THE YEAR OF THE YAO is also a story about friendship, in which two young men, a Chinese athlete and his American translator, help one another navigate their first year with the NBA. With its inbuilt drama, universal emotional themes and positive message, THE YEAR OF THE YAO is a film for everyone, however great or small their interest in basketball.
October 2002. After formal speeches and farewells from his teachers and local Shanghai officials, 22 year-old Yao Ming leaves for the United States and his new career with the Houston Rockets. As the Number One overall draft pick of the 2002/2003 season and a big man who rivals his fellow center Shaquille O'Neal in size and strength, Yao is about to become the NBA's most scrutinized rookie in recent memory.
His arrival at the Houston airport offers a window onto what the upcoming year holds for him: enthusiastic crowds of basketball fans and others eager to welcome the new player; numerous print and television journalists with lists of questions. It is also at the airport that Yao is first introduced to his translator, Colin Pine, a 28 year-old who lived in Taiwan for several years and speaks fluent Mandarin. It is Colin's job not only to represent Yao to the media, but also to serve as the conduit between him and the Rockets' coaches and players. Moreover, to help his client adjust to life in a new country with a new language, Colin will be living with Yao and his parents at their new house in Houston.
For Yao, the professional challenges are formidable. He has arrived after the team's pre-season orientation, and must play catch-up to learn the Rockets' different game strategies. On a more profound level Yao must train himself to play in the fast, aggressive, individualist style that characterizes the NBA - a style that is antithetical to the Chinese approach to basketball and life in general.
For Colin as well as Yao, being part of the NBA is a new and at times overwhelming experience. Essentially, they are both rookies, learning as they go. That similarity helps create a bond between the physically imposing, low-key Chinese athlete and his slight, energetic American interpreter. Colin becomes Yao's guide to American society and culture, whether the subject is video games or the American public's perception of China. Colin is there to explain the special foods served at Thanksgiving - a holiday Yao likens to the traditional Chinese harvest dinner.
As Yao bounces back from the season's rocky beginnings, his popularity zooms off the charts. Inevitably, his ethnicity as well as his talent and dedication make him a hero not only to Asian Americans but also to fans across the spectrum of race and ethnicity. Meanwhile, the demands on Yao's time grow ever greater and playoff season is fast approaching. Barely into adulthood, Yao must meet the challenge of maintaining his trademark calm - not to mention his game.