Bouncing Onto Blu-ray On 2/10/09
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While there's an awful lot of things to to like about director and co-writer Jessica Yu's earnest coming-of-age comedy Ping Pong Playa that's centered on C-Dub (played by her co-writer Jimmy Tsai)-- an Asian cereal eating, playground hustling, frequently fired, under-achieving slacker who worships at the altar of urban hip-hop-- unfortunately the character of C-Dub isn't one of them.
Ostensibly, Tsai's C-Dub is the type of character that's funny for brief spurts of time and one that I wasn't terribly surprised to learn that has already been a success in viral YouTube videos online to hawk the Venom Sportswear line of clothing.
And for his big screen close-up, instead of endearing us to C-Dub, Yu and Tsai's script ensure he grows consistently more annoying as the film goes on, which is a big disappointment as it's an otherwise smart, fresh, and genuinely cheery film from the Oscar winning short subject documentarian that offers a great take on culture clashes and stereotypes... most significantly for the Asian community.
Moreover, Yu's Playa is an unusual work of quality that the entire family can sit down and watch together given its PG-13 rating and interesting way she "bounces" out the swear words with the edited insert of a basketball bouncing every time he drops an F-bomb, despite their decision to leave the phrase "F-bomb" in the film as a character nickname.
SNL sketch character who overstays his welcome in a film that-- much like the SNL comedies of Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Chris Farley and others-- has him go through a similar underdog formula in trying to win a championship to help his family, after he unintentionally distracts his perfect over-achieving brother and mother with his foolish antics into a car crash which leaves them unable to participate in an important ping pong tournament.
Billy Madison, it's only a matter of time before he has kids betting on games and giving him their allowance money but he soon changes his tune when he's inspired by the group of quirky children to help save the family business from a few evil white dudes led by Peter Paige (one of a few non-Asian ethnic stereotypes that enter into the film including one about Indian young prodigies etc.).
Despite this the kids are adorable-- most notably the young Felix (Andrew Vo) who of course has a beautiful sister that C-Dub falls for and the Indian Prabakar (Javin Reid)-- and the supporting cast playing his family is terrific as they nail all the jokes about their ethnicity in a number of surprising scenes filled with fresh takes. But by offering a headache inducing lead performance and by not going anywhere original in terms of plot and by pigeonholing it in the-- as the film references-- Bad News Bears like paradigm, it's one where the potential was ultimately squandered.
Still, Ping Pong Playa is the type of film that already has a built-in fan-base of those who dug Tsai's character on the web along with reaching its core demographic with an appealing film that tries to go against all of the usual stereotypes about martial arts etc. And while in some circles, I expect it will be as big as Napoleon Dynamite and it does indeed get an "A" for effort in managing to serve up quality fare for the cinematically under-represented population-- next time around I think we can do much, much better than C-Dub in trying to turn Asian stereotypes around by leaving other stereotypes (like the "what up, playa" hip-hop caricature sure to annoy some African-American viewers) out of the mix.
original Super 16mm footage to HD appears slightly grainy in the flesh tones and outlines, there's some entertaining bonus features in the widescreen disc including audio commentary from Yu and Tsai, two featurettes and more. While the DVD has been available for over a month, the hotly anticipated Blu-ray-- nominated for a 2008 Independent Spirit Award-- pings onto store shelves on February 10.