The Year of the Yao

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
The Year of the Yao Movie Poster Image
Yao Ming's journey from Shanghai to Houston.
  • PG
  • 2005
  • 88 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages
Violence & Scariness

Basketball scenes include some aggressive play.

Sexy Stuff

Very brief.


The film is partly about Yao becoming a brand name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this documentary focuses on the super-popular basketball player Yao Ming, whose initial acclimation into U.S. culture involves getting used to a new language, new habits, and new expectations. Many kids will be interested in his story, partly because the marketing machine this film exposes is so successful (Yao jerseys, posters, and other merchandise are everywhere). Families should be aware that the film's premise is Yao's integration into U.S. commercial culture: he becomes a kind of brand himself, as he sells Apple computers or soft drinks. It doesn't hurt that Yao is a great salesman, a good sport, and a loyal son to his parents, who come with him to live in Houston during his first year. There is mild profanity (from Yao's teammates), and the game scenes can be intense (only as professional basketball involves some aggression and body contact).

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What's the story?

"Moving from China to the United States is being born again," says one of Yao Ming's friends. "You have to learn everything all over again." THE YEAR OF THE YAO illustrates this sometimes difficult process, observing Yao's first year in the NBA through the eyes of his Houston Rockets-appointed translator, 28-year-old Colin Pine. The number one pick in 2002's draft, Yao came under pressure immediately, as he was expected not only to represent his new team , but also his fellow citizens back home; he was expected to be a sort of good will ambassador to the legions of basketball fans worldwide.

Is it any good?

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficulty of learning a new language or being surrounded by a new culture. Families can also talk about the ups and downs of being a celebrity, or the pressures facing a sports star, who is expected to perform well on the court (in other words, work hard to stay in excellent condition and practice shots and passes), as well as accommodate fans and take part in publicity events. Is such fame and fortune worth all this hard work?

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