Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Ursula Liang’s Documentary 9-Man Makes West Coast Premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival


Ursula Liang

Ursula Liang

Ursula Liang, (Director/Producer/Director of Photography) is a journalist who has told compelling stories in a wide range of media over the past 15 years. Her debut documentary 9-MAN, makes its West Coast premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and will screen on Friday, May 2nd at 7:00 PM at the Directors Guild of America, Theater 2, 7920 Sunset Blvd, LA; and on Monday, May 5th at 4:30 PM at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum, National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, 111 N. Central Ave., LA.

On the heels of last year’s LINSANITY comes another magical sports documentary. But rather than follow the story of a single athlete, 9-MAN offers a glimpse into the fascinating communities that emerged around a uniquely singular sport. An alternate, if harsher, version of volleyball, 9-man was introduced by young Chinese American men during the 1930s — a time when anti-Chinese sentiments and racist legislation as the Chinese Exclusion Act confined the social realm of Chinese workers to America’s various Chinatowns. To them, nine-man offered both an escape and fraternity for men who were separated from their families in China and facing extreme discrimination and distrust. It became a way to bond and unite over social injustice, an outlet to vent the anger and frustration of everyday life, and the proof of one’s strength and manhood despite the contrary messages that a racist environment continued to circulate. Against this backdrop, it is easy to understand the game’s lasting historical significance, and its role in the ongoing fight for Asian American visibility.

In following the paths of several regional 9-man teams through to the 2010 “ultimate battle” in Boston during Labor Day weekend, director Ursula Liang’s camera captures the almost fanatical attachment of the players to their game. From Washington DC to New York City to Boston to even Toronto, Liang traces the individual trajectories of select players, their relationships both on and off the court, and the hierarchies that a sports such as 9-man necessarily creates. Who are the major players? Who decides to quit? And who is left behind? For a game that features nine players instead of the typical six and is commonly played on asphalt, 9-man has over time developed its own pioneers and celebrities, from 6’7″ Olympian Kevin Wong to 91-year-old pioneer Henry Oi. And yet, the modern iteration of 9-man remains largely the domain of Chinese American men. Even today, non-Chinese Americans — the definition of which seems to vary from year to year — are excluded from tournament games. While offering a rich context to the vibrant world of 9-man, director Liang never shies away from interrogating these exclusionary practices and the at-times uncomfortably paternalistic attitudes that define a game that holds so much history.

Synopsis written by: Feng-Mei Heberer


Friday, May 02 7:00 PM Directors Guild of America 2 Buy Tickets 

Monday, May 05 4:30 PM Tateuchi Democracy Forum Buy Tickets

Cast & Crew

Executive Producer Melanie Riley-Green
Producer Ursula Liang, Theresa Navarro
Director Ursula Liang
Director of Photography Ursula Liang
Art Director John Fan
Music Composer Scott Jung, Adam Rubenstein
Editor Michelle Chang
Associate Producer Bing Wang

 Lia Chang and Ursula Liang at the Asian American Journalists Association's Gala Banquet at the New York Hilton on August 24, 2013.

Lia Chang and Ursula Liang at the Asian American Journalists Association’s Gala Banquet at the New York Hilton on August 24, 2013.

URSULA LIANG (Director, Producer, Director of Photography) 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” and the independent documentary “Fighting Foster”. Liang grew up in Newton, MA and lives in The Bronx, NY. Her brother played 9-Man.

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia recently starred as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the 2013 National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Phynjuar, and made her jazz vocalist debut in Rome Neal’s Banana Puddin’ Jazz “LADY” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York.  She is profiled in Jade Magazine.

Other articles by Lia Chang:
May 1-11: Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Celebrates 30th Year, TO BE TAKEI Screens as Opening Night Film
Photos: André Braugher, Ami Brabson, Christine Toy Johnson, Antoinette LaVecchia, Richard Topol, Victor Williams, Nikkole Salter, Elizabeth Van Dyke at Oni Faida Lampley’s Tough Titty at the Paradise Factory
Photos: Harriet Harris, John Tartaglia, Christine Toy Johnson, Alan Muraoka, James Saito and More celebrate Ann Harada’s Debut at Lincoln Center in the American Songbook Series 
Photos: Tonya Pinkins, André De Shields, S. Epatha Merkerson, Billy Porter and George C. Wolfe at 54 Below
Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins Celebrates Ethel Waters at 54 Below in New York on August 27, 2012
Jun. 4-29: Tony Award–winner BD Wong Leads Cast of A.C.T.’s U.S. Premiere of Orphan of Zhao, a co-production with La Jolla Playhouse
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder Leads 2014 Tony Award Nominations; Bryan Cranston, LaTanya Richardson, Neil Patrick Harris, Mark Rylance, Audra McDonald, Leigh Silverman among nominees
Signature Theatre to Be Honored with the 2014 Regional Theatre Tony Award
Photos: Late Night with Holy Land’s Jojo Gonzalez
Miss Saigon’s Francis Jue Receives Elliot Norton Award Nomination for Outstanding Musical Performance by an Actor
Kerry Butler, Edward James Hyland, Matt Walton, Megan Sikora and More in Previews of Off-Broadway Production of Under My Skin at The Little Shubert Theatre
Photos: The George Gee Swing Orchestra at SWING46; Launches Indiegogo Campaign for New CD, Swing Makes You Happy
Photos: Bryan Cranston, Peter Jay Fernandez, Roslyn Ruff, Tamara Tunie, Leslie Uggams, Ruben Santiago-Hudson Celebrate All The Way Opening Night
Apr. 22 – May 18: Working Theater Presents The off-Broadway Premiere of James McManus’ CHERRY SMOKE at Urban Stages
André De Shields, Mary Zimmerman, Among 4 Elliot Norton Award Nominations for Huntington’s World Premiere of The Jungle Book, a co-production with The Goodman
Photos: AALDEF Honors Mari Matsuda, Aasif Mandvi, and John Chou in 2014 at 40th Anniversary Celebration
Apr. 23-27: Joel de la Fuente Stars in Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths at PlayMaker’s Repertory Company
Jun. 22 – July 27: Richard Thomas and Kristen Connolly Set for Old Globe Debut in OTHELLO
Mar. 21-May 4: Richard Thomas, Ron Rifkin, Hallie Foote and Khaled Nabaway Set for Arena Stage’s World Premiere of Lawrence Wright’s Camp David
Photos: Backstage and Opening Night of Signature’s World Premiere of David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu
Photos: Steve Rosen, David Rossmer, Hannah Elless, Vadim Feichtner, Cathryn Salamone, Ken Triwush and Kate Wetherhead Celebrate The Other Josh Cohen Opening Night 
Photos: David Henry Hwang, Annie Baker and Rajiv Joseph honored at Sixth Annual Steinberg Playwright “Mimi” Awards
Q & A with Meet Me in St. Louis: A Live Radio Play’s Garth Kravits
Signature’s Revival of The Piano Lesson Sweeps AUDELCO’s with 8 Wins including Best Revival, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Roslyn Ruff, Chuck Cooper and Brandon J. Dirden; Also Among 2013 “VIV” Winners – Wild with Happy’s Coleman Domingo and Sharon Washington; and Storyville’s Mercedes Ellington 
Photos: André De Shields, Michael Shannon, Rajiv Joseph, Christine Sherrill, Doug Peck, Alexis J. Rogers, Karen Ziemba and More Celebrate 2013 Jeff Equity Awards
Photos: Denise Burse, Michael Genet, Doug Eskew, Tracie Thoms, Sakina Ansari-Wilson and More Celebrate Marcus Gardley’s dance of the holy ghosts Opening Night at Center Stage
Photos: Backstage with Michi Barall and the cast of Regina Taylor’s stop.reset. at Signature Theatre
Photos: The 58th Annual Drama Desk Awards and After Party
Celebrating my mom – AN ACTIVE VISION: BEVERLY UMEHARA…LABOR ACTIVIST…1945-1999 Crafting a Career
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2014 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved.  All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at

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