Starring Jimmy Tsai. In English and Mandarin with English subtitles. Rated PG. Opens Friday, November 14, at the Cinemark Tinseltown
At the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu (In the Realms of the Unreal) explained that she tried to infuse the characters in her bilingual culture-clash-sports-comedy with nuances. Unfortunately, the multi-ethnic characters in Ping Pong Playa are painted with strokes so broad that they all blend into a clichéd monochromatic perspective. Although there’s a lot of infectious fun on display, mediocre production values and stale ingredients undercut the film’s potential.
Jimmy Tsai plays Chinese-American Fresh Prince knockoff Christopher “C-Dub” Wang, a slacker homeboy with NBA pipe dreams. When his Ping-Pong–champion brother and instructor mother are injured in a car accident, C-Dub is coerced into teaching his mother’s ragtag class of kids. When a new school tries to steal the students away, tensions escalate until C-Dub must defend his family’s Ping-Pong reputation at the—aiiyah—Golden Cock Tournament.
For a movie that aspires to challenge stereotypes, however, it sure employs a lot of them. There’s the fat kid, the nerd, the token black friend, and unfunny, prissy gay caricatures as C-Dub’s rivals (Queer as Folk’s Peter Paige and Scott Lowell).
Tsai shines with his chocolate-dipped–banana act and shows promise as an entertainer. There are amusing observations of both Chinese-American and Ping-Pong cultures. Yet because C-Dub is reactive, rather than active, in dealing with his identity issues, the classic Asian–North American struggle of individuality versus familial obligations doesn’t break new ground here.
The film is notable for being one of the few Asian-American comedies in circulation. Yet in order for Asian–North American cinema to truly advance, a fresh spin on interracial relations-beyond reducing them to black-and-white (or yellow-and-white) competitions-is needed.