Director & Cinematographer: Ursula Liang
This award winning documentary screened at the Festival du nouveau cinéma (FNC) in Montreal but unfortunately I could not go to the particular times chosen for the screenings. I had heard of this documentary before (it was released in Spring 2014) so I did recognize it when it was listed as part of FNC’s lineup. I recently purchased a digital copy of it online (DRM free) from the 9-Man store and am glad that I did. The documentary is interesting and portrays a significant but not necessarily well known part of the Chinese North American past and present. That being a unique variation of volleyball called 9-Man which you guessed it features 9 players on each side of the court but also enforces a minimum number of Chinese players be present on every team along with other play rule variations / techniques.
Many Chinese who were born and/or grew up in the 80s and afterwards I think generally grow up being unaware of the history of Chinese immigrants in North America through no fault of their own since schools did not cover it (and probably still don’t) and often Chinese parents do not talk much about the past. Even though I knew someone who actively participated in this sport, I merely thought it was just a Chinese Volleyball club and never gave much thought to it. I was wrong and this documentary revealed to me the deep history behind 9-Man and what it meant to those who participated in it with fiery passion and pride. The film chooses to focus on a handful of Chinese Americans & Canadians (both players and coaches) that have had different experiences but remain easy to relate to. It’s not particularly in depth but that’s not an issue as we get to know each one well enough. One person mentions the word “cult” in relation to the sport but I quickly discovered that 9-Man is much more than that too.
Racism is also discussed in the documentary. Since Chinese immigrants were discriminated, they had no choice but to create their own sports league where they had to make do playing in parking lots and rigging up makeshift nets and balls. Now there are non-Chinese who want to play but cannot because of the rules that exclude anybody who does not have Chinese descent (with the exception of allowing a limited number of other East Asian ethnic groups). The irony of racism being inverted is not lost on the old and new generations. The documentary itself does not seem to lean either way on this matter but simply portrays discussions & events related to it including a challenge during one tournament directed at the heritage of a visibly black player who has a Chinese grandparent.
Apparently the filmmaker had four or so years of footage but edited it down to cover one particular year that had some key and exciting moments both on the court and off the court. The documentary shows some exciting 9-man volleyball sequences that now make me want to watch a game of it live at some point. For me this is easily a recommended documentary, not only did I learn something but it has piqued my interest in the sport itself, outside of its cultural roots. I’m curious about the footage that had to be cut, in particular any footage of the women players but I guess if I had bought the special features version I would have got to see some of it (perhaps this will be a future purchase).
You can buy a dvd, a drm free digital copy or a digital rental at the 9-Man store.