My Other Home
China/US, 2017, colour, 2.35:1, 109 mins.
Director: Yang Zi 杨子 [Larry Yang].
So-so biopic of US basketball player Stephon Marbury rebooting his career in China.
New York, 2009. Born into a family of seven in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York, and trained in his youth by his father Donald (Frankie Faison), Stephon Marbury (Stephon Marbury) had become an NBA player at the age of 20 but, following the death of his father in Dec 2007, had started to fall apart and finally been laid off. Out of the blue, player-turned-agent Li Nan (Wu Zun) turns up in New York and invites him to China, an offer he finally accepts. In Beijing he meets his manager, young Chinese American Li Chen (Jeong Su-yeon) who can’t even speak Chinese. Two years later, after playing for two different teams, he decides to go home; but he then receives offers from two others – the struggling Beijing Ducks, trained by Zheng Yalei (He Bing), and top-ranked Guangdong Southern Tigers, trained by Zhao Tengguang (Yu Ailei). He chooses the Beijing Ducks, to help it realise the impossible dream of winning the country’s championship. Against advice from his onetime trainer father Zheng Zhishang (Wang Qingxiang), Zheng Yalei allows Stephon Marbury to completely re-write the training manual. After winning 13 games in a row, the Beijing Ducks then loses to the Guangdong Southern Tigers and its captain, Jiang Yi (Jin Rong), is badly injured. Stephon Marbury verbally attacks the Guangdong Southern Tigers but, after receiving a dressing-down from Korben Smith (Baron Davis), a fellow American in the Guangdong team, he calms down and considers leaving China for good. He’s persuaded to fight on by his mother (Loretta Divine). The Beijing Ducks makes it to the finals of the 2011/12 championship but then faces its greatest challenge, beating the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
A so-so biopic of US basketball player Stephon Marbury starring the man himself, My Other Home 我是马布里 is 100-odd minutes of fist bumping, high fives, punching the air and lots of “bro”s and “man”s, but sputters and stalls whenever it’s outside the gym or court. Written (unimaginatively) and directed (better) by Mainland film-maker Yang Zi 杨子 [Larry Yang] – a commercial film-maker who made an impressive detour into artier stuff with Mountain Cry 喊•山 (2015) – it’s more an encomium to the city of Beijing than a dramatic biopic, though Marbury’s faults and mistakes are not glossed over. At the end, just to remind everyone what the movie has been about, Marbury’s own voiceover underlines the messages once more: “This story is about a New Yorker in Beijing, about a second chance in life, about big dreams, about miracles and, more importantly, it’s a story about love.” Despite his reputation in Mainland sporting circles, audiences didn’t share the love: the film took only RMB9 million at the summer box office.
After a brief recap of Marbury’s youth and his early success and failure in the NBA, the story proper starts 10 minutes in with an offer out of the blue to reboot his career in China. Thereafter, with a few ups and downs, it’s basically about Marbury instilling a sense of confidence in the Beijing team (and himself) that they can take on the cocky Guangdong team and win – in other words, a real-life variation on the westerner-finds-himself-in-Asia template. Character drama is basic: aside from his mother and late father, Marbury’s family is never shown; at one point he says he’s married but his wife remains invisible.
As an actor, Marbury handles his better-written scenes okay and is likeable enough in a fish-out-of-water way; but he’s also given some clumsy dialogue (e.g. “China gave me a new life and healed my soul”) that would tax a professional. As his American-style gung-ho agent, Brunei-born actor-model-onetime-Taiwan-boybander Wu Zun 吴尊 is better cast here than in previous dramatic roles like My Kingdom 大武生 (2011) and Lady of the Dynasty 王朝的女人 杨贵妃 (2015), acting easily in English and convincingly as an ex-player, thanks to his sporty image; in a purely decorative role, Korean American singer Jeong Su-yeon 정수연 | 郑秀妍 [Jessica Jung] pops up in the early going as Marbury’s non-Chinese-speaking Chinese manager, gets some silly dialogue and then virtually disappears. Quietly turning in the best performance, and giving the whole film some spine, is He Bing 何冰 (the stubborn juror in 12 Citizens 十二公民, 2014), as the Beijing team’s taciturn trainer; he’s well matched with Yu Ailei 余皑磊 (the husband in Mountain Cry), here slyly confident as the Guangdong trainer.
Technical contributions are fine, with a rousing score by France’s Nicolas Errèra (Mountain Cry) supporting the realistically staged and dynamically cut basketball scenes. The Chinese title literally means “I Am Marbury”. For the record, Marbury, now 40, left the Beijing Ducks in Apr 2017 and has since joined another of the city’s teams, for one final season.
Presented by Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN). Produced by Beijing Hairun Pictures (CN), Beijing Forbidden City Film (CN), Ivanhoe Pictures (CN).
Script: Yang Zi [Larry Yang]. Photography: Chen Dan. Editing: Zhang Chao, Yang Zi [Larry Yang]. Music: Nicolas Errèra. Art direction: Sun Li. Styling: Wang Xuesong. Sound: Ma Jie, Huang Jing. Visual effects: Ajoy Mani (Prana Studios). Basketball choreography: Stephon Marbury. Executive direction: Cao Lei.
Cast: Stephon Marbury (himself), He Bing (Zheng Yalei, Beijing trainer), Wu Zun (Li Nan, agent), Jeong Su-yeon [Jessica Jung] (Li Chen, manager), Wang Qingxiang (Zheng Zhishang, Zheng Yafei’s father), Loretta Divine (Mabel Marbury, Stephon Marbury’s mother), Frankie Faison (Donald Marbury, Stephon Marbury’s father), Yu Ailei (Zhao Tenggang, Guangdong trainer), Vivian Dawson [Jin Rong] (Jiang Yi, Beijing captain), Gao Yixiang (Yang Xiya, Beijing player), Wang Yangming (Wang Lielin, Guangdong captain), Baron Davis (Korben Smith, Guangdong player), Gao Yunxiang (bar owner), Allen Iverson (himself), Andrew Manning (teenage Marbury), He Junze (Zhang Xiaoliang, Beijing player), Bian Saiyuan (Bian Shuai), Mike Sui (bar manager).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival, 18 Jun 2017.
Release: China, 4 Aug 2017; US, tba.