Film Review: Late Life: The Chien-ming Wang Story

A Taiwanese athletic pioneer is profiled with deep affection and a singular honesty.
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Although no one dies from Lou Gehrig’s disease or gives a heart-rending baseball retirement speech, Late Life is possibly the most purely moving batter-up film since every dad’s favorite male weepie, The Pride of the Yankees. It centers on pitcher Chien-ming Wang, the first (and only thus far) Taiwanese to play in the Major Leagues, in the mid-2000s.

His brilliance on the mound, delivering blindingly fast sinkerballs and surefire groundball pitches, won the Yankees some 19 games in the 2006-7 seasons, before a devastating injury sidelined his career. Frank W. Chen’s devoted film tracks his early starburst of a career from his childhood with his quietly proud, doting parents in Taiwan to his emigration to America, where he incited a “Lin-sanity” kind of madness in proud Taiwanese and other Asian fans during his spirited Yankees reign, where he was unwillingly dubbed “the Pride of Taiwan.” Then we catch up with him today, relegated to the minors but aiming to make the best of it, and still dreaming of the majors even as it takes a toll on his family, requiring that he be away for at least 200 days of the year.

The fact that Wang is, in his quiet way, as devastatingly handsome as cinema Yankee Gary Cooper was does not hurt matters; he also possesses innate grace and dignity a world apart from the doltish criminal offenses of the stereotypical dumb, obnoxious American jock. His long-suffering but exquisitely poised wife and his two adorably puckish little sons fully convey the breadth of the sacrifice any pro athlete faces in terms of just being there for them.

Wang’s aged parents are also onboard, absolutely personifying the twin Taiwanese virtues of humbleness and hard work. His stoic mother nearly breaks your heart when she speaks of her support of his finding happiness through his sport, but also relief that his physical travails, requiring the services of concerned trainers and doctors, will end when he soon retires.

The film drags a bit at times, as we see a map of the various smaller towns Wang passes through in his Minor League sojourn—Louisville, Charlotte, Tacoma. He confesses to at times not even knowing where he is, making you realize that, for all the fan frenzy and excitement as he stands on that mound, it can also be quite the loneliest place on Earth.