9-Man is an independent feature documentary about an isolated and exceptionally athletic Chinese-American* sport that’s much more than a pastime. Since the 1930’s, young men have played this gritty, streetball game competitively in the streets, alleys and parking lots of Chinatown. When the community was a Bachelor Society (men outnumbered women by huge percentages) at a time when anti-Chinese sentiment and laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act forced Chinese restaurant workers and laundrymen to socialize exclusively amongst themselves, nine-man offered both escape and fraternity to men who were separated from their families in China and facing extreme discrimination and distrust. Today, some 80 years later, nine-man is a lasting connection to Chinatown for a community of men who know a different, more integrated America and it’s a game that has grown exponentially in athleticism. Nine-man punctuates each summer with a vibrant, aggressive, exhausting bragging-rights tournament that unites thousands of Chinese-Americans and maintains traditional rules and customs—sometimes to the malcontent of outsiders.
9-Man introduces the history of the game and spotlights a chorus of modern-day characters—from 6’7″ Olympian Kevin Wong to a 91-year-old pioneer—combining direct cinema footage and interviews with archival footage and photos sourced directly from the community. The film follows teams in four main cities through the summer as they prepare for the Labor Day championship in Boston. Pivoting between oil-spotted Chinatown parking lots, jellyfish-filled banquet scenes, sweat-drenched summer practices and intimate home scenes, the film captures the spirit of nine-man and Asian-American life as players not only battle for a trophy but struggle to preserve a faded tradition in the face of a society rife with change.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER URSULA LIANG (Director, Producer, Cinematographer) is a journalist who has told stories in a wide range of media. A former staff editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine and writer/reporter at ESPN The Magazine, Liang was a host of the radio program Asia Pacific Forum on WBAI, associate producer for the Emmy-nominated documentary, “Wo Ai Ni Mommy”, producer for the Emmy-nominated Asian American TV show “Stir”, and sports editor for the Asian-American magazine, Hyphen. She recently produced for Fuel’s “UFC Countdown”, FX’s “UFC Primetime”, TNT’s “Save Our Business” and the independent documentary “Tough Love” with Stephanie Wang-Breal (world premiere: Full Frame 2014; IFFBoston 2014). Liang also works as a senior publicist for the film publicity company The 2050 Group which has represented Oscar-nominated and festival-winning films and is a founding member of the Filipino American Museum. She is in pre-production on a feature documentary with Nadia Hallgren called “The Back Room.” Liang grew up in Newton, MA and lives in The Bronx, NY. “9-Man” is her debut as a director.