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San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
SAN FRANCISCO — Oscar-winning documentarian Jessica Yu’s narrative debut “Ping Pong Playa” upends any highbrow expectations created by her intense nonfiction films. Yu adeptly parlays her incisive filmmaking style into an urban yarn about a Chinese-American wanna-be basketball star who discovers his inner champion while coaching a kids’ table tennis league. Although formulaic, “Ping Pong Playa” will continue to delight on the fest circuit. An adventurous specialty distributor could score crossover points in multicultural venues.
Motor-mouth Christopher “C-dub” Wang (Jimmy Tsai) is a trash-talking, suburban 20-something basketball fanatic who imagines himself NBA-quality material — if he were only six inches taller. C-dub lives at home with his parents — who run a pingpong shop with a sideline in coaching local kids — and constantly dodging comparisons with his physician brother Michael (Roger Fan).
C-dub’s sports-glory fantasies crash to earth when his family drafts him to take over the kids’ table tennis league after a car accident injures his mom and Michael. Teaching rowdy kids may be a comedown for a playa, but it forces C-dub to defend family honor in the annual Golden Cock pingpong tournament.
Tsai, who co-wrote the script with Yu, pulls out all the stops with his C-dub role, brimming with witty send-ups of Chinese-American cultural values and Asian stereotypes. The supporting cast aptly abets his small-minded megalomania, particularly the coterie of younger actors surrounding C-dub.
Yu directs with a clever eye and nimble camera, filling scenes with wicked banter, slapstick comedy and amusing visual puns. The rest of her team plays at a similarly skillful level, buoyed by a gleeful score featuring nonstop hip-hop beats.
PING PONG PLAYA
Cherry Sky Films
Sales Agents: ICM, The Firm (domestic)
Director: Jessica Yu
Writers: Jessica Yu, Jimmy Tsai
Producers: Anne Clements, Joan Huang
Executive producer: Jeffrey Gou
Director of photography: Frank G. DeMarco
Production designer: Denise Hudson
Music: Jeff Beal
Costume designer: Jessica Flaherty
Editor: Zene Baker
Christopher “C-Dub” Wang: Jimmy Tsai
Mr. Wang: Jim Lau
Michael Wang: Roger Fan
Mrs. Wang: Elizabeth Sung
Gerald Harcourt: Peter Paige
Running time — 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
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