Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jimmy Tsai, Andrew Vo, Khary Payton, Jim Lau, Roger Fan, Elizabeth Sung, Javin Reid, Kevin Chung, Peter Paige, Smith Cho, Scott Lowell, Stephnie Weir
Written by: Jessica Yu, Jimmy Tsai
Directed by: Jessica Yu
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, including some sexual remarks and drug references
Language: English, Chinese with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/09/2007

Ping Pong Playa (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Paddle Royale

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Oscar-winner Jessica Yu (Best Documentary Short, 1996, for Breathing Lessons) makes her narrative feature debut with Ping Pong Playa, and the result couldn't be more surprising. Rather than a leaden, message-heavy, self-conscious tract, Yu has delivered a fleet-footed, featherweight comedy riddled with clich├ęs, but nonetheless charming and winning. Playing the lead role, newcomer Jimmy Tsai (who co-wrote the script with Yu) is part of the film's success. He's Christopher 'C-Dub' Wang, a lazy suburban do-nothing who prefers videogames, basketball, comic books and cold cereal to responsibility. He speaks and behaves like a hip-hop gangsta, and it often sounds like he's successfully channeling Will Smith. He has an easy rapport with all the other characters, ranging from parents to kids. His older brother Michael (Roger Fan) is a Ping Pong champ, which drives customers to their mother's Ping Pong class and their father's sporting goods store. But when a car accident (partly caused by C-Dub) puts both Michael and Mother out of commission, C-Dub is forced to take over teaching the class. Later, he decides to take his brother's place in the tournament. Tsai and Yu concentrate on grounding these characters in real fears and desires and the family relationship feels authentic. The film hits upon the usual "Asian movie" themes already explored in a dozen other movies (Asian women are objectified!), and the villains are pathetically narrow, but the movie's energy overcomes all this and the creaky old sports movie chestnuts too. Yu films it like a documentary, but without calling attention to the style; it's a clean, bright comedy, but one with a vigorous, guerilla verve. She also makes effective use of scale: C-Dub riding a miniature scooter, or racing (Rocky-style) up a tiny set of bleachers. A sharp, funny hip-hop soundtrack also helps pump up the volume. Jim Lau and Elizabeth Sung play Mr. and Mrs. Wang, and Smith Cho plays Jennifer, the gorgeous love interest (but not objectified!). Stephnie Weir also stars.

DVD Details: The 2009 DVD from Image Entertainment comes with a commentary track by Yu and Tsai, plus featurettes, a trailer and more stuff.

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