Thu, Dec 13, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Movie review: Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story

This poignant, polished but slow-paced documentary is an intimate look at Taiwanese baseball star Wang Chien-ming as, years removed from his glory days, he quietly refuses to call it quits

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Wang Chien-ming played for the minor league affiliate of the Seattle Mariners in 2015.

Photo courtesy of Activator Marketing Co

Taiwanese-Canadian director Frank Chen (陳惟揚) definitely took a gamble when he embarked on his four-year journey documenting baseball star Wang Chien-ming’s (王建民) comeback to the American major leagues.

Although Chen told reporters during a screening in Taipei that he had a backup scenario just in case Wang failed, it simply would not have been as gripping and heartwarming as the finished product that premiered in the US in October and will hit Taiwan box offices tomorrow.

His eventual success is vital to the narrative, especially when the film opens with Wang at the lowest point of his career, long removed from his halcyon days with the New York Yankees when he was an elite pitcher with a deadly sinker. Six years after injuries derailed his promising career, Wang is seen driving alone on a road trip, bouncing around the minor leagues looking for a second chance, but he even gets cut by the Southern Maryland Blue Claws, a team probably unfamiliar to even American viewers. At this point, Wang is 35 years old, much older than most of his competition, but he simply does not want to give up.

Tension builds as Chen juxtaposes scenes from Wang’s best days with his current situation, rekindling memories for those who had stopped paying attention to the “Pride of Taiwan,” or were wondering what happened to him. Actually, he’s never gone away nor quit. It’s a straightforward and polished documentary that has the essential elements of suspense, intrigue and plenty of tender footage of Wang and his family, especially his relationship with his two sons. The film paints a multi-dimensional picture of Wang as a human being and not just a baseball player, even though baseball is the only thing Wang has ever known and is what drives his entire existence.


Late Life: The Chien-Ming Wang Story


DIRECTED BY: Frank Chen (陳惟揚)

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

LANGUAGE: Mandarin and English with Chinese and English subtitles


Despite his accolades, Wang is a quiet and reserved character, which is why some of the sequences are monotonous. It wasn’t a surprise when it was revealed that he was reluctant to participate in the project, especially when his career wasn’t going the way he wanted it to. He’s a gentle giant, a likeable guy — as attested by the many testimonials of his family and colleagues in the film — but that does not make for exciting cinema, unfortunately, as the highs and lows in the movie mirror his personality. Kudos to Chen for staying true to the subject and not embellishing, but some of the editing in the middle of the film could be tighter to hasten the pace.

A sensitive and persistent storyteller is needed to draw out the inner layers of this kind of subject, and fortunately Chen seems to be that kind of director. Besides his baseball skills and height, Wang really doesn’t stand out, but through his sheer inner strength and intimate interactions with people in the film, one does get a good sense of who Wang is by the end. It’s definitely an inspiring tale, and will surely resonate a lot stronger with Taiwanese audiences who see him as a hero. In the US, he’s just another pretty good foreign player who didn’t last long.

Given this relative anonymity, one can’t help but wonder about the slick production and big-time cinema feel of the documentary, especially when it’s coming from a first-time director about a not-so-mainstream character from a country that many people have heard of but know little about. It turns out Chen had help. Fubon Financial Holding (富邦金控) helped finance the project, while the producer is Taiwanese-American actor Brian Yang, who starred in Hawaii Five-0 and produced the Jeremy Lin (林書豪) documentary, Linsanity.

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