Review: “9-Man” documentary is a complex, thought-provoking challenge to Asian American stereotypes

9-man-logoOpening to a Boston theatre crammed to capacity with an audience that included current and former players of 9-Man and the mayor of Massachusetts’ city of Malden, 9-Man made its theatrical debut last night at the 2014 Independent Film Festival of Boston. It was an instantaneous hit.

9-Man spotlights the uniquely Chinese-American sport of 9-man, an eighty-year old variant of volleyball popular in the southern Chinese city of Toisan and surrounding region as well as in Chinatowns throughout North America.

As a documentary, 9-Man is richly layered. Although a film about a virtually unknown sport with deep roots in Chinese American history runs the risk of being unwatchably dry, 9-Man is instead a surprisingly funny, sharp and nuanced conversation about contemporary Asian Americana.

Film-maker Ursula Liang (@ursulaliang), whose background is in sports journalism, allows 9-Man to tell its story through intimate conversations with several 9-Man players, each amateur athletes who fully dedicate their summers to training as part of the sports’ four more competitive teams: the Boston Knights, the Boston Freemasons, the D.C. CYC, and the Toronto Connex. Each team is hoping to win the annual Nationals tournament, a Labour Day weekend contest that thus far been dominated by the San Francisco Westcoast, a self-professed ringer team consisting mostly of professional (6-Man) volleyball players who aren’t really part of the 9-Man culture or community.

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