Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Ping Pong Playa

By Kingway Yeh

The misleading trailer killed it for me, but the call of a free viewing appealed to my sense of Asian frugality, and ultimately I walked away with more than just a free movie ticket: I was given the chance to view a theatrical release that spoke to my Asian American heritage.

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The first time I’d come across any mention of this movie, was when I was casually browsing the selection of San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival (SFIAASF 2008) showings earlier in the year. I hadn’t given it any real thought, outside of the quick brush-off, ‘Eh, this some kind of Balls of Fury clone? Gosh, that Christopher Walken is one crazy looking guy… ‘ Fast forward a few months, and I come across the movie again via casual browsing, but this time on the II stix forums. With a link provided to the appropriately named domain PingPongPlaya.com, I pulled up the movie trailer and proceeded to develop a bad taste in my mouth after the near two minute visual summary concluded:

Stereotypical wannabe lead, with typical Asian stereotypes on display.

I wasn’t sold. In fact, I found the funniest part of the trailer to be the single portion in which there was an extended line featuring one of the non-Asian characters in the film. The actress delivered the overtly blatant, stereotypical line with such a straight face, that I finally laughed. After having watched the movie though, I feel that an overused and absolutely tired clich’ is in order: Never judge a movie by its trailer.

The main protagonist, Christopher ‘C-dub’ Wang, played by first time actor Jimmy Tsai, is a cringe-worthy type character. Straight out of the Wannabe-AZN 101 classroom, he is quick to get in people’s faces and raise his voice, while speaking in constant slang, peppered with gratuitous swearing. The black sheep of the family, who plays an unmotivated, second fiddle to his older brother Michael, the doctor, C-dub is introduced as the everyday slacker. Overshadowed by his older brother, and nagged by his ping pong shop owning parents, he shuns ping pong and boasts constantly of having large basketball game, but is unable to deliver when put in a real game situation. Excuses and blame fly continually when things don’t go his way, until he is forced to man up after a car accident claims his mother’s ability to adequately help run the family owned store with his father and Michael’s ability to defend the Golden Cock ping pong champion title.

This is a movie of many firsts, as in, this being Jessica Yu’s directorial debut in the field of comedy and Jimmy Tsai’s first mainstream acting job, which made it that much more impressive. The movie will not catch anyone by surprise in terms of the plot, but it does a good job of highlighting specific stereotypes that exist today while also providing an intimate glimpse into a Chinese American household. I was actually able to relate to some of the family situations presented in the movie, one specifically would be the being yelled at/lectured to in Mandarin. There was a surprising amount of Mandarin spoken throughout the movie, which was thankfully subtitled for the audience. This worked out well, as the diverse crowd that was in attendance found the ability to laugh at the words printed on the screen a number of times. While the movie initially presents itself in the trailer as being heavily reliant on asian stereotypes to score cheap guffaws, it proved to have enough whimsical, light-hearted dialog and character scenes to get anyone to laugh.

The bonus to the showing I attended was that both Yu and Tsai were in attendance to give an informal Q and A session after the movie ended. The venue was actually shifted to a different, larger screen in the theater to accommodate the brisk ticket sales. This was not one of the obscenely large costco-esque multiplex theaters though, so the director and actor were able to just stand in front of the screen sans microphones and answer the various questions asked by the audience. They detailed how the two originally came together to write this movie and how the idea of using ping pong as the main sport was born. In addition to providing this history, they answered a variety of questions that ranged from ‘what was your main motivation to do this movie’ to ‘do you usually wear really tight shorts to play’. When the floor was initially opened for questions, there were no hands in the air. Tsai was quick to joke that their night was done and that they could all go home. They then detailed that they were giving out branded ping pong balls for any questions asked and the flurry began.

On top of being a recommended movie, the beats in the soundtrack are excellent. If that voice rapping sounded familiar in the trailer, you would be recognizing Chops of Mountain Brothers fame. Confirmed by Tsai, the soundtrack will officially release on September 30th, 2008 with Amazon already taking pre-orders.

Do not miss this movie as I almost did, due to what I feel was a somewhat lacking trailer. Keep your eyes on the website to see if it might be hitting your local neighborhood. Yu mentioned that there wasn’t a large repository of money that they could dip into for publicity, and that it has largely been word of mouth that has carried it so far. There appears to be a few more cities in the lineup of featured screening areas, so hopefully you can catch it soon. If not, do not despair (or download it) as all hope is not lost. I was rewarded with a ping pong ball when they answered my question: the DVD is expected to be released January 2009.

Filed under: Flicks • (2) CommentsPermalink

Thanks for the review. This is exactly the assessment that I was looking for. If this film is as well rounded as you've reported, I am hopeful that this will inspire other projects by major studios.

Posted by s2pid  on  09/09  at  01:24 PM

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