TIFF Review: Ping Pong Playa - Best of the Fest!
by Alex Billington
September 29, 2007
Every once in a few film festivals I find that rare gem that goes unnoticed in the mainstream movie world yet instantly becomes one of my all-time favorites. This year it was Jessica Yu's Ping Pong Playa from the Toronto Film Fest where I was brought along unknowingly to a screening without being sure what to expect. I was in for a treat: a hilarious comedy that had me laughing so hard I scared the people in theater next to me. Screw the terrible Balls of Fury, Ping Pong Playa is the ping pong movie that should be in the spotlight!
I'm not sure how to describe Ping Pong Playa. It's an off-the-wall, eclectic comedy about an Asian-American wanna-be "gangsta" and aspiring basketball player named Christopher "C-Dub" Wang (Jimmy Tsai) who lives with his parents in Southern California. His brother is a local ping pong champion whose success fuels sales at his father's ping pong store and his mother teaches ping pong to kids. His brother is the perfect child and he's the "problem child" who didn't go to college and just wants to play basketball. When his mom and brother get in an accident and can no longer play ping pong, C-Dub must teach his mom's class of youngsters and attempt to win the local ping pong tournament to save the family business.
Within the first 20 minutes I was already laughing enough to know that this one was working its way up to being one of my favorite films of the fest. It's Jimmy Tsai, who plays C-Dub, who succeeds most at defining a character that is so real that this feels more like a documentary than a work of fiction. Almost every word that comes out of his mouth is comic gold, not because he's a comedian, but instead because I've met kids exactly like him in the real world. On top of all that, his best friend is the 10-year-old kid in his ping pong class and I can't even tell you how much that setup can be used for laughs without getting old, thanks to excellent work from director Jessica Yu.
A good film doesn't need an expensive budget or over-the-top physical humor to compare to great comedies like Knocked Up, it just needs a simple story and well-crafted characters. Ping Pong Playa has both of those and more. It's unfortunate knowing that hardly anyone will get to see Ping Pong Playa in theaters but I'm looking forward to the cult status that I know it will eventually earn. If you have any appreciation for comedy then make sure you catch this in theaters at any opportunity. Ping Pong Playa will eventually earn a cult status and you definitely want to be one of the first to see it!