‘Ping Pong Playa’ Is a Cross-Cultural Gem

Brandon Hensley

Now that the blockbuster-filled movie season has come to an end, the time has come for moviegoers to make a decision: either embrace some of the studios’ lesser quality titles, or look for little-known films in hopes of finding a hidden gem.

One such movie that might fit under the latter category opening in limited release this month is the quirky “Ping Pong Playa’,” a comedy centered around Christopher Wang and his Chinese-American family living in Los Angeles.

Wang (Jimmy Tsai) is a former basketball player turned jobless slacker who keeps reminding anyone who will listen that he could have been an NBA pro if not for his physical limitations. He delights in handing out nicknames (he even gives himself two: C-Dub and The Orient Express) and is completely immersed in hip-hop culture.
All of this does not impress his family, who run a ping pong oriented store and whose mother teaches ping pong to young kids at the local Chinese community center.

Christopher’s older brother Michael (Roger Fan) is an annual ping pong tournament champion, which only makes the uninspired Christopher look worse.

Because of injuries to Michael and Mrs. Wang (Elizabeth Sung) in a car accident, Christopher, or “C-Dub,” is forced to take over coaching duties at the community center and encounters the antagonist of the movie, a Brit named Gerald (Peter Paige) who tries to take business away from the Wang family. C-Dub is then convinced (or rather forced by his father) to join this year’s local tournament to defend his family’s honor against Gerald, who is also in the tournament.

Directed by Jessica Yu (Oscar winner for 1996’s “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien”), “Ping Pong Playa'” does touch on some social aspects of Chinese-Americans living in L.A., but for the most part, Yu has made a film that goes for light hearted laughs instead of deep racial commentary.

The furthest it may go is C-Dub’s father’s dislike of the British because they take credit for the creation of ping pong away from the Chinese. It’s a low-budget comedy about ping pong, not the next “Crash.”
C-Dub is hard to root for, at least at first. He’s stubborn, cocky, and temperamental, reminiscent of Adam Sandler’s character in “Billy Madison.” But his interaction with the community center kids is amusing (he hilariously gives one the kids named Felix the nickname F-Bomb), and his father (Jim Lau) finally teaches him the discipline needed to succeed at something, anything.

What Tsai may lack in raw acting ability, he makes for in pure energy. His personality dominates over every other actor that shares screen time with him. The kids are enjoyable enough, and end up being the ones who inspire C-Dub, not the other way around.

It does feel like the film struggles to complete it’s running time, and the climax and outcome is predictable, but “Ping Pong Playa” offers a good time in a post-summer world. The ping pong action is intense (as intense as it can get) and while not offering any huge laughs, it’s the little things, like beeping out profanity with the sound of basketballs bouncing, that make the movie an ultimately enjoyable experience.

Rated PG-13 for language, including some sexual remarks and drug references.
Directed by Jessica Hu. Written by Jessica Hu and Jimmy Tsai. Produced by Anne Clements and Joan Huang. Music Composed by Jeff Beal.
My rating:3 out of 5 stars