is a lot like volleyball, but with more street smarts and tradition. You used
find it played in traditional Chinatown neighborhoods and it still is in
spirit. Ursula Liang chronicles a season of the scrappy amateur sporting league
and explores its cultural legacy in 9-Man
which screens during this year’s DOC NYC.
hundred years ago, the American media was not exactly preoccupied with
immigration reform and pathways to citizenship. Prohibitive restrictions were
placed on Chinese immigration, particularly limiting the influx of women. As a
result, expatriate Chinese communities were overwhelmingly male and largely segregated
to Chinatown enclaves. 9-Man became an important social outlet within the
neighborhood and facilitated friendships with teams from other cities through the
annual championship tournament.
tradition is carried on today by younger generations. Liang will follow the
leaders of several teams, particularly the perennially contending Toronto Connex
and the upstart Boston Knights. (Strangely though, New York teams are only
mentioned in passing, which is downright bizarre, considering this is the universally
acknowledged sports capital of the world.)
briskly but comprehensively explains the history and rules of 9-Man: three more
men on the floor than traditional volleyball, but no rotations and no jump
serves. Here’s the potentially controversial part: six of those nine have to be
100% Chinese-American and the other three must be part Asian, strictly defined.
It is their game, so they should be able to set whatever rules they wish.
However, it is strange that they enforce purity at one end, but let San
Francisco West Coast, a team of tournament-only professional volleyball players,
come in and routinely win the championship, frustrating the
passion-for-the-game amateurs who train together all season long.
Blacktop-style volleyball might not sound particularly
engaging to non-fans, but Liang skillfully employs it a metaphor for traditional
Chinese-American values of tradition, hard work, and dedication to family and
community. There is some pointed social commentary as well, but Liang never
belabors the issue. Audiences will pull for the sport to continue and thrive in
general, if not necessarily for a specific team (that isn’t the West Coast
ringers). Recommended for sports fanatics and viewers from any ethnic
background who appreciate the immigrant experience, 9-Man screens this Saturday afternoon (11/15) as part of DOC NYC
Labels: 9-Man, DOC NYC '14, Documentary