The surprisingly wonderful "Ping Pong" is part high-school jock movie, part high-flying martial-arts epic, except with table tennis.
By JOSHUA TANZER
Among the phrases we never thought would be published in these pages,
very high on the list was "a high-impact table-tennis thrill ride." But
you never know when the likes of the Japanese film "Ping Pong" will come
along and smack your preconceptions right back over the net at you.
At its peak moments, the film gives you a table's-eye view of the intense practitioners of Asia's pastime and an appealing portrait of ping pong like you've never seen it before. These schoolkids live and breathe the game as if it were Texas high school football. Or war.
|Directed by: Fumihiko Sori.|
Written by: Kankurô Kudô.
Cast: Yôsuke Kubozuka, Arata, Sam Lee, Shido Nakamura, Koji Ogura.
In Japanese with some English and Cantonese with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
|Anthology Film Archives
32 Second Ave. (at Second Street)
Sat., May 17, 2003, 6:15 p.m.
Mon., May 26, 2003, 6 p.m.|
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Asian Films Are Go! 2003|
Previous years' festivals
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Asian Films Are Go! (2002)
"Peco" Hoshino and "Four-eyes" Tsukimoto (also nicknamed "Smile" because he never does) are best friends and lifelong ping-pong rivals. Peco is a blowhard who covers in bragadocio what he lacks in top-class talent, while Tsukimoto is an introvert who buries his natural ability under an attitude of brooding apathy. The other schools seem to have much more disciplined players (and one even has a fearsome champion who is gasp! Chinese), so if you're looking for the underdogs in this epic, samurai-like battle, you've found them.
Funny but sometimes sobering, "Ping Pong" is full of drama, tension and humor. Parents coddle their children's fragile egos. Competing teams try to intimidate each other. The popular girls flock to the winning players and dump the washouts like yesterday's sushi. The ping-pong press stirs up locker-room controversy. Rival coaches (one of whom may in fact be the best character in the film) ride herd on their players, re-enacting old rivalries from their own high school days, trying to redeem their own long-ago failures.
It's either the pressure or the ego that gets the best of one player who perches on a bridge railing, threatening to jump.
|Ultimately, the game transcends the repetitive ka-plink ka-plink ka-plink of little plastic balls on wooden tables it becomes an elegant tango of the mind and soul.|| |
"What will your parents think if you die?" asks a passing cop, taking a tactic that certainly wouldn't have occurred to an American in this situation.
"Die?" says the player.
"Yes, you won't amount to anything if you're dead," the officer warns.
Grandiosely, the deranged youngster proclaims in English, "I can fly!"
"Yes, you can fly!" the officer chimes in, indulging the youngster before realizing that encouraging him to try flying might be a bad tactic.
As it turns out, when the city championship comes around, you too will believe these kids can fly. In a variation of "Crouching Tiger"-style wire-fu, the ping pong reaches such a crescendo that soon the players are leaping, lunging and soaring beyond belief. Ultimately, the game transcends the repetitive ka-plink ka-plink ka-plink ka-plink of little plastic balls on wooden tables it becomes an elegant tango of the mind and soul. The film sweeps you aloft into the ping-pong stratosphere along with the best players, and as hokey as that must sound if you haven't seen it, you'll be a believer once you do.|
So sure, Americans hate subtitles and foreign countries and foreign
people other than Antonio Banderas in their movies, as a rule. I know
that. But if once in a while they're willing to watch Japanese-speaking
Japanese people do ballroom dancing, of
all things, maybe they're ready for a high-impact table-tennis thrill
ride like "Ping Pong" with a totally likeable story and cast and a sense
of humor. I think it's got a chance.
|MAY 15, 2003|
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