“Ping Pong Playa” follows the exploits of Christopher “C-Dub” Wang, played by newcomer Jimmy Tsai who co-wrote the script with Yu. C-Dub is a lazy, gangsta-talking suburbanite, who has an excuse for all of his shortcomings. He has dreams of playing in the NBA but makes a point of addressing why the world is keeping Asians out of it. While preoccupied with video games, and beating local elementary school kids on the basketball court, the rest of C-Dub’s family owes their livelihood to the sport of Ping Pong. His Mother teaches classes, his father runs a store dedicated to selling ping pong sporting goods, and his brother is the local ping pong champion and hero.
In true sports-movie fashion, an injury sidelines both his mother and his brother, so it’s up to C-Dub to not only teach his mothers’ classes, but eventually take his brothers place in the local Ping Pong tournament.
Ping Pong Playa is a by-the-numbers sports film, complete with a training montage. It’s very light and not surprising in terms of its story and the overall direction of the movie. You can see where it is going by the time the plot gets established, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.
As a comedy the movie is rather funny. The jokes are mostly set up, and knocked down as a result of C-Dub’s ways. A lot of time is spent with C-Dub and his class of impressionable young students, so there is a little bit of “Bad News Bears” sprinkled in this as well. This isn’t a film that you will find yourself quoting for days after, but it does have its moments. One of the funniest bits is the Ping Pong tournament itself. I will not repeat the name of the tournament here, but it got some pretty big laughs from the audience. What was most funny about the tournament was how scaled down it was. I expected something akin to the world cup of Ping Pong, but it was more like a community gathering. The decision to do that really made for a funnier event overall.
As an Asian American film, it works really well in addressing the Asian American condition without necessarily becoming a polemic. The obligatory love interest (if you could even call it that) played by Smith Cho, is an Asian American studies major writing her thesis on the objectification of Asian Women. There are a lot of moments in the film that deal with C-Dub playing the role of the “Angry Asian Man,” as he consistently preaches the plight of his people. The irony being that his plight is coming through in a distinctly urban vernacular. The stereotypes are addressed head on, but it never feels like the movie is trying to preach. There are some distinctly Asian-American jokes that play out, but it’s not exclusive. Everyone is invited to laugh along.
Overall the movie was enjoyable but not amazing. It’s worth taking a look at if you get the opportunity. It isn’t going to be a life changing experience, but it may teach you something about the history of Ping Pong you didn’t know. At the very least it may explain to you why there are so few Asians in the NBA.