Evan Jackson Leong’s ‘Linsanity’ Documentary Captures Essence of Jeremy Lin by Miguel Gonzalez Jr. for Wall Street Journal Scene Asia)
Jeremy Lin stormed onto the global stage a year ago, an Asian-American basketball player who shocked the world by leading the New York Knicks to a string of victories with a fearless playing style. He seemed to come out of nowhere, but Evan Jackson Leong, director of the documentary “Linsanity,” knew better. He’d been following Lin with a camera since the player’s days in school.
Lin’s qualities, commonly viewed as weaknesses for an aspiring NBA player, only served to make his surge more compelling: the 6-foot-3-inch player is of Chinese descent, he isn’t a physical freak, and he went to a distinguished university, Harvard, not known for its basketball program. His story captured the imaginations of basketball fans and casual observers, even for the man at the helm of what would become the definitive documentary of the Lin phenomenon.
Leong, in Hong Kong for the screening of “Linsanity” during the Hong Kong International Film Festival, said he wasn’t sure when he started exactly where the story would end up, but he understood the appeal of Lin from the start. “I’d heard about him in high school, when he went to the championship, won player of the year,” said Leong, who, like Lin, hails from the San Francisco Bay area. “But it wasn’t until his junior or senior year at Harvard that I really started hearing about what he was doing: breaking records, winning games, leading his team in all stats.”
The documentary started as a series of webisodes following Lin through university and his early days in the NBA’s development league. Those six-to-eight-minute vignettes turned into the 88-minute film that is drawing crowds on the festival circuit—“Linsanity” made its premiere to a packed house at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is showing at a sold-out screening in Hong Kong on Saturday.
Like a good point guard, the film “Linsanity” plays to its strengths. Leong had a wealth of footage from the pre-Linsanity days that showed the player at his most relaxed. What’s fascinating is that the early Lin, struggling to get recognition in the sport he loves, isn’t much different from the modern Lin.
“He’s the same person I’ve known for the last four years,” Leong says. “Everything [he did] was built around humility, and he’s kept it.”
“It’s funny, he tells me, ‘All I want is shoes. And I get them for free!’”
The film also drives home just how normal Lin’s existence was until the stars aligned for him in New York. Leong knew that Lin had a fan base in Asia, and “Linsanity” shows the player with his family in the U.S. and in Taiwan. These scenes show a life familiar to Asians and Asian-Americans alike: Lin among the food stalls at a night market, Lin visiting old relatives proud to see how much he’s grown, Lin’s mother reminiscing about trying to get him learn to play piano.
Through it all, “Linsanity” portrays a man whose faith and hunger help him overcome all the discouragement—and overt racism—to succeed. (Hunger, indeed, is a recurring theme: Lin is seen occasionally wolfing down massive amounts of food, and even his mother recalls that as a boy he was always eating.)
Also, just as a good point guard would, “Linsanity” avoids potential weak spots. Lin suffered a knee injury late last season that left him sidelined during the Knicks’ playoff run. Then, during the summer of 2012, he left New York for a lucrative contract with the Houston Rockets, the team that gained a massive following in Asia during its years with China’s Yao Ming at center. He isn’t lighting up the league the way he did during his time with the Knicks.
Those facts aren’t covered up in “Linsanity,” but its portrayal of Lin’s rise in New York is expressionistic and unabashed in its enthusiasm for its subject.
Go somewhere else if you want to pick apart Jeremy Lin’s flaws. See “Linsanity” because, when Lin drains shot after shot until his name echoes from the Madison Square Garden rafters, it will leave you with goosebumps.