Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.
10 years ago, Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu delivered this forehand smash of a comedy featuring an unknown comic actor named Jimmy Tsai.
Today, Jimmy Tsai is still unknown, and not even acting. But this performance is nonetheless legendary. Tsai plays trash-talking underachiever Christopher “C-Dub” Wang, who lives at home in the shadow of his model older brother while scamming children and losing a string of forgettable jobs. His primary gangsta-fueled delusion? That he has the chops to be the world’s first Chinese NBA star.
I did say delusion, didn’t I?
When his table-tennis champ bro has to bow out of the annual tourney and his mom can no longer teach at the family ping pong academy, C-Dub has to take a crew of nitwit acolytes under his reluctant wing and find a way to salvage both his family’s rep and his own pride.
The script, co-written by Yu and Tsai, is a politically-incorrect insider’s look at Chinese-American dynamics and stereotypes that skewers just about every aspect of American pop culture. The hip-hop soundtrack is both fun and strangely pointless–a perfect foil to Tsai’s C-Dub, who is simultaneously fascinating and ridiculous. A walking metaphor for Trump-era America.
Whether C-Dub is riffing on NBA stars, stiff-arming tots on the gradeschool hoops court, “mentoring” his students on the funner points of ping pong, blowing his chances at romance, or driving his dad crazy at home, you never get the feeling that Tsai is “performing” for the camera. The character, which originated in ads for a sportswear company, is so fully realized that every supporting performance is drawn into C-Dub’s alternate reality. Yu does a particularly good job with the supporting cast of child actors–and as with Tsai, I have a hard time believing that none of them, even Andrew Vo, so good as Tsai’s sidekick Felix, have gone to even minor stardom.
Yu herself hasn’t managed to land a major feature film gig, either. It’s almost as if everyone involved thought, “Well, there’s no way I’ll ever have THAT much fun on a film set again,” and just called it a day. Even the outtakes during the end credits are infectiously enjoyable.
The film is obviously a micro-budget indie, but never really feels or looks like it. Instead, like C-Dub, it feels like it is exactly what it should be, and needs to be. Nothing more.
And that’s a lot of low-key fun.
Ping Pong Playa can be screened for free at Tubi. You can also stream it on Amazon Prime for a small fee.