After a string of documentaries, including In the Realms of the Unreal, and an Academy Award win for Best Documentary Short, Jessica Yu makes an unlikely, deceptively slight narrative feature debut with Ping Pong Playa. What's perhaps most surprising about the film, however, is that Yu (who has also directed a fair amount of television drama) is actually quite adept as a comedy director. Adhering to well-worn underdog sports humor, her film follows the slow, amiable rise of Christopher "C-dub" Wang, a slacking Asian American with more of a penchant for the urban culture of hip-hop and basketball than for his family's business and passion: ping-pong.
The film coyly announces itself as a character comedy of indie pedigree in its first act, as C-dub advises his eleven-year old friend Felix that "unless you want to become the Chinese Napoleon Dynamite, get out of ping pong." Whether this line is intended to foster or preempt Ping Pong Playa's most obvious pull-quote, C-dub's self-deprecating, yet highly revealing advice says a lot about the film. The plot will, of course, be all but dispensable: C-dub's slacking inadvertently threatens his family's ping pong supply business and reputation for expertise in the sport, and so he must step up his ping pong game, coaching a band of young table tennis misfits and winning the National "Golden Cock" Table Tennis Tournament (and, in the process, "the girl") in order to save the day. With this paper-thin pretext, the film rests entirely on the shoulders of an abrasive, clueless, yet oddly charming protagonist.
Click here to read the rest of Leo Goldsmith's review of Ping Pong Playa.