Pong Playa (USA; 96min.)
directed by: Jessica Yu
starring: Jimmy Tsai; Roger Fan; Shelley Malil; Jim Lau; Elizabeth Sung
Michael says: "Who would have thought that the first feature narrative by filmmaker Jessica Yu, the brilliant documentarian responsible for IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL and PROTAGONIST, would be a wacky comedy in the vein of THE BAD NEWS BEARS? Co-written by the film's star, Jimmy Tsai, PING PONG PLAYA' hits all the right notes of the genre but more, it's comedy, and it's a film created by and starring Asian-Americans, with many of the issues and stereotype subtly woven into the story.
Christopher 'C-dub' Wang dreams of being a professional basketball player, but his victories over the little kids in the neighborhood hardly qualify him for a star player. His mother teaches ping pong at the local community center, while his father runs a local ping pong supply shop, which is successful because C-dub's older brother Michael wins the ping pong championship year after year keeping the supply of students to the school flowing. When Michael and their mom are injured in a minor car accident, it falls to C-dub to take over the ping pong classes, and to compete in the championships. Sounds a little silly, but Yu and Tsai have written a script that's just flat out funny. At it's best, PING PONG PLAYA' is reminiscent of the films of Christopher Guest, spoofing a genre that is slightly ridiculous to start with. Even when it stumbles it merely falls to the level of the usual Hollywood sports movie genre.
The cast helps to elevate PING PONG PLAYA' above the usual fare. Jimmy Tsai, not an actor, or even a screenwriter, by trade but an accountant for the production company, does a good job making "C-dub" annoyingly ridiculous, but with a good heart. Jim Lau and Elizabeth Sung turn in fine comedic performances as the parents. Peter Paige (CHILDSTAR; 'Queer As Folk') turns in a despicably amusing performance as 'C-dub's' ping pong rival, and the actress (I couldn't find her on the cast list at imdb) who played the Ping Pong official is near brilliant. Even the typically stock character of the love interest is elevated into an interesting part as played by Smith Cho.
Okay, it's not a brilliant movie, but it is a thoroughly entertaining film that proves that Jessica Yu is one talented filmmaker capable to handling a wide variety of genres. So see PING PONG PLAYA' if you're in the mood for some wacky comedy... and see PROTAGONIST to see a truly brilliant documentary. 3 cats
"PINK screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival"