Film spot­lights 9-Man vol­ley­ball

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By LI ANG in New York For China Daily

As half-Chi­nese, half-Ger­man de­scen­dants grow­ing up in a pre­dom­i­nantly white sub­urb of Bos­ton, Ur­sula Liang and her brother had never ex­pe­ri­enced much of their Chi­nese-Amer­i­can roots un­til they dis­cov­ered 9-Man, a pop­u­lar form of Chi­nese vol­ley­ball played in Chi­na­towns across North Amer­ica.

Although Ur­sula never got the chance to par­tic­i­pate in 9-Man dur­ing her post-col­lege vol­ley­ball play­ing days (the rules ex­clude women and non-Asians), she has cap­tured the ex­cite­ment of the game on film.

9-Man, her in­de­pen­dent doc­u­men­tary fea­ture about the sport has been screened since April in Bos­ton, Los An­ge­les and New York. With au­di­ence awards and a spe­cial jury prize for best direc­tor at the Los An­ge­les Pa­cific Film Fes­ti­val, as well as stand­ing ova­tions and full houses, 9-Man has been win­ning over au­di­ences from coast to coast.

Liang took leave from her job as a staff edi­tor at the New York Times Style Magazine and started the fiveyear project with the team she fol­lows when the ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion — the North Amer­i­can Chi­nese In­vi­ta­tional Vol­ley­ball Tour­na­ment (NACIVT) — was held in New York in 2008.

“I’d been wait­ing, but no­body had done any big story about it here in a decade,” Liang said. So, when the tour­na­ment came to New York, Liang said she started film­ing and raised $40,000 on Kick­starter, a crowd­sourc­ing pledge plat­form in the US.

Hav­ing been a jour­nal­ist work­ing for ma­jor me­dia out­lets like ESPN, the New York Times and Vogue for years, Liang de­cided to make 9-Man af­ter learn­ing that the ear­li­est gen­er­a­tion of 9-Man play­ers were al­ready in their 90s.

“If I didn’t do it, it was pos­si­ble that they might not be around to tell their sto­ries,” she said. “Some­body needed to get them on record.”

Ex­plain­ing why she chose doc­u­men­tary as the medium for ex­plor­ing the sport, she told China Daily that 9-Man re­quired ac­tion to con­vey its dy­nam­ics and there was much to show out­side the vol­ley­ball courts of the com­mu­nity and cul­ture in Chi­na­towns.

Mak­ing 9-Man didn’t al­ways go smoothly, mainly be­cause of the lan­guage bar­rier. Liang speaks no Man­darin or Tais­hanese — the most pop­u­lar lan­guages used in Chi­na­towns. How­ever, af­ter in­ter­act­ing with the com­mu­nity, she was hap­pily sur­prised to learn that of­ten­times Chinatown res­i­dents speak English much bet­ter than she ex­pected.

“Main­stream me­dia in Amer­ica have a lack of cov­er­age of im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties be­cause of the lan­guage, but that doesn’t mean peo­ple in Chi­na­towns don’t have in­ter­est­ing sto­ries,” Liang added. “As por­trayed in the me­dia here, Chi­nese Amer­i­cans seem like quite peo­ple who don’t like to talk, but they are re­ally happy to share, if you take the time to lis­ten.”

She ad­mit­ted she was ner­vous dur­ing the pre­mieres be­cause many 9-Man play­ers were in the au­di­ence at the screen­ings. She wor­ried that some of the nu­ances she put into the film show­ing peo­ple los­ing or look­ing bad were against the Chi­nese pref­er­ence for be­ing per­fect in pub­lic. 9-Man play­ers shat­tered that stereo­type for her.

“It’s great, I loved it, 9-Man is com­pli­cated but Ur­sula’s movie cap­tured it re­ally well,” said Wayne Chow, a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can ac­coun­tant who has been play­ing 9-Man for eight years and is af­fil­i­ated with the New York Strangers Sports Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I think every­one at the pre­miere loved it,” said Chow, “whether they knew 9-Man be­fore or not. It’s not a stan­dard sport across the coun­try, and it’s not rec­og­nized in that sense as well, we only started to get ex­po­sure due to the 9-Man movie.”

One of Liang’s goals in mak­ing the doc­u­men­tary was to help Chi­nese in the US re­flect upon their self-iso­la­tion within Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. She men­tioned the his­tor­i­cal back­ground of the Ex­clu­sion Act.

“The his­tory still speaks for what’s hap­pen­ing to­day, the ques­tion we should ask our­selves as Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, is it right to keep peo­ple from dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties out and re­peat what has been done to us?” Liang said.

For au­di­ences of non-Asian her­itage, she hopes the doc­u­men­tary helps them un­der­stand the Chi­nese peo­ple more.

Liang re­called an elderly white woman re­mark­ing af­ter a screen­ing that she had been on the edge of her seat. “Why this is not on ESPN, I don’t un­der­stand why they are not cov­er­ing this,” she said.

Another au­di­ence mem­ber came up to Liang and ex­pressed his pride at be­ing Chi­nese. “Those com­ments made me re­ally happy, and made it all worth it for me,” Liang said.

Liang men­tioned the im­ages of Chi­nese-Amer­i­can men in the film will change the stereo­type peo­ple have re­gard­ing “clas­sic Chi­nese im­mi­grants” — lack of a sense of hu­mor, work­ing all the time and rigid.

“I in­ter­acted with them dur­ing the pro­duc­tion and I found out what Amer­i­cans have in mind about Chi­nese men is not re­al­ity at all, in­stead, I saw in­cred­i­bly strong, mus­cu­lar, dy­namic 9-Man guys.”

Talk­ing about her plans for the near fu­ture, she said she’ll be work­ing on other doc­u­men­tary projects about Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties. Con­tact the writer at read­ers@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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