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New Line Home Cinema presents
The Year of the Yao (2005)

"Yao Ming makes Shawn Bradley look like Bill Russell."
- Charles Barkley, in a particularly uncharitable moment

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 13, 2006

Stars: Yao Ming, Colin Pine
Other Stars: Rudy Tomjanovich, Shaquille O'Neal, Phil Jackson
Director: James D. Stern, Adam Del Deo

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild language
Run Time: 01h:28m:06s
Release Date: March 14, 2006
UPC: 794043825323
Genre: sports

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- BBC- B-

DVD Review

For an aggressive marketer like David Stern, Yao Ming had to have been the answer to a prayer the commissioner might not even have been brave enough to articulate. The NBA has long been looking to grow its market, especially outside of the United States, and the jackpot has to be giving 1.1 billion Chinese a rooting interest in basketball games—what better way to fill up the marketing chasm that's been empty since Michael Jordan finally retired? This documentary was produced by the NBA, and hence is sort of a mash note to Yao—it's a look at his first year in the NBA, and of the challenges faced by him coming from one culture to another.

For those who may not follow professional basketball as vociferously as some of us: Yao Ming is seven feet, five inches tall, and until 2002, played for the Shanghai Sharks, his home team in the People's Republic of China. That year the Houston Rockets made Yao the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft, and if you believed the hype, you were confident that Yao was going to be a dominant center in the tradition of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Both of Yao's parents played for the Chinese national teams, but even that sort of hoops pedigree couldn't have possibly prepared him for the demanding life, both on and off the court, of the NBA.

When Yao arrives in Houston, his English is limited, and hence in many respects the principal character of the film is not the center himself, but his translator, a young man named Colin Pine. (This being a product of NBA Entertainment, there's no discussion of whatever deal needed to be cut between the Rockets, the NBA, Yao's Shanghai team, and the Chinese government.) The documentarians know that Yao is the star, but they turn this into a buddy picture of sorts—the hulking Chinese man as the fish out of water, his little pal paving the way for him. First and foremost, it's hard not to be struck by the sheer size of the man—when you're 7'5", every door, every room, every ceiling brings with it complications, and it's stunning to see Yao dwarf people like Kevin Garnett and Bill Russell. There's lots of the standard getting-to-know-you stuff: Yao and his teammates, Yao learning the offense from his coach, Rudy Tomjanovich, Yao facing the demands of fans and sponsors and especially the media. The filmmakers try to shoehorn Yao's year into a conventional dramatic structure—rising from untutored rookie to dominant force, climaxing in a showdown with Shaquille O'Neal and the Lakers—but it feels forced, and it doesn't hold up, especially if you've paid attention to Yao's career in the subsequent years. (Goodness knows he's not an international bust along the lines of Manute Bol or Yinka Dare, but he's not the great imposing center who can score at will that many had hoped, and it's still Hakeem Olajuwon and not Yao who is the only center who has brought championships to Houston.)

The vignettes are linked up with voice-over from Pine, and interview footage with sportswriters who covered Yao's year, along with a handful of other relevant parties, including Lee Brown, the Mayor of Houston; and Jerry Yang, one of the founders of Yahoo!, and a prominent (and fantastically wealthy) Chinese American. It's really more fun as an inside look at the life—the lunatic demands of All-Star weekend, for instance, or a game against Jordan and the Wizards, in which Mr. Yao goes to Washington. Perhaps most fun of all is a shoot for a PowerBook commercial, in which Yao is paired with Verne Troyer, best known as Mini-Me. Yao progresses in his year, but he alone wasn't enough to get the Rockets into the playoffs, and the film ends with Yao packing up for the off-season back home, and saying farewell to Pine, who's too manly to cry, but is obviously emotional. Overall it's not a film that will radically reshape your sense of life in the NBA or of Yao, but it's a window into a world that those of us who don't scrape seven feet tall will never see.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lots and lots of contrast, but it looks as if the transfer was done with some degree of care.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: There are some serious sync problems on this disc, in the last half hour especially. It sounds like somebody seriously (ahem) dropped the ball on this one.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Ankle Breakers, Dunks! 2
8 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. DVD credits
Extras Review: Aside from the DVD credits under the New Line logo on the main menu, the extra of note is a package (55m:26s) of eight deleted scenes, mostly having to do with life on the road. We get to learn here about Yao's love of buffalo wings, and see him, frighteningly, learning how to drive. There's a funny and very odd sequence of Yao and his entourage trying to get to the rookie game during All Star weekend; they're ensnarled in traffic, and the driver punctures a tire taking an ill-advised shortcut. So the film crew documents the wild sight of Yao and his people taking the streets of Atlanta, and flagging down a bus. (Imagine driving along and getting stopped by a 7'5" man with his own personal camera crew.) There's also an extended look at Yao's goodbye from Houston and his triumphant return to China, and footage of the hoopla and a post-screening Q and A from the film's premiere, at the 2005 All Star game in Denver.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A good-hearted view of life on the road and off with the most celebrated rookie in the history of the People's Republic.


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