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Parents' Guide to

The Year of the Yao

By Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 8+

Yao Ming's journey from Shanghai to Houston.

Movie PG 2005 88 minutes
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Kids, especially those who are sports fans or moved here from a different country, will find this documentary interesting. Yao's parents (also basketball players, in China) moved with him from Shanghai. He was a mature 22-year-old, but was beset by demands and expectations from a crowd of people he didn't yet know very well -- trainers, coaches, teammates, physical therapists, and publicists. The film displays his good-natured adjustments to familiar U.S. excesses, including big cars, shopping malls, adoring fans, and lots of noise ("I think shopping tired him out more than playing did," observes Pine).

The movie's focus on Yao is limited by his lack of narrative abilities. Yao certainly dominates the frame (he's 7'6"; the only player here who comes close to that height is Shaquille O'Neal, Yao's much-touted professional rival, at 7'1"). But even as he stands out, Yao also tends to be quiet; this makes the filmmakers' decision to work through (the considerably shorter) Pine's experiences look sensible, as he fills in verbally when Yao is on the court or trying hard to understand the fast-talking Americans around him. (The film probably relies too much on Pine's reaction shots while he watches Yao play -- at first not so well -- as if viewers can't figure out how to react themselves.) Still, their friendship, at least Pine's understanding of it, forms the film's center. And it's clear that Yao is a big-hearted, well-adjusted friend to have.

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