Movie Review of the Week
--Review by Riposte101 @ 7/25/03 01:12 PST.
"Do you believe in heroes?" That is the question that drives the story behind the newcomer Fumihiko Soriís film Ping Pong. The film is a study of friendship and the realization of talent. This a movie about ping pong, you ask? The answer succinctly put, is no. The movie is a character study; the sport of ping pong is merely the device the film employs to tell it.
The story follows the lives of three childhood friends Peco, Smile and Akuma. Peco has great talent, but possesses little discipline. While he dreams of one day becoming the best ping pong player in the world, he uses his natural talent at ping pong to get by and believes that since the game has come so easily to him that he is above practice. Think Allen Iverson. He also participates in a number of activities that are not beneficial to his goal, these include, smoking and constantly eating an assortment of strangely flavored Japanese snack foods.
The deepest character of the film is Smile, who got his nickname because he doesn't. He is a solemn young man who has always looked up to Peco. During his tortured childhood, it was Peco who had constantly looked out for him and fought off the bullies. It is for this reason that he envisions Peco as a hero and places him on a pedestal. He plays below his ability to save the ego of Peco. His natural talent is limitless and this does not escape the notice of his coach and by way of a wager with the reluctant Smile, he convinces him to submit to his training and play to his true ability.
When Peco comes to the realization that Smile had been letting him win, he decides to give up the sport and instead pursue the purpose of owning all the records on a Virtual Fighter machine.
Although Akuma lacks the natural talent of both Peco and Smile, he trains day and night. He lives and breathes ping pong. In the most powerful scene in the film, with tears in his eyes he rants about how he has trained a million times harder than Smile, yet he is bested with little effort. Akuma is a character that most of the audience can empathize with because all of us have at one time or another had a moment of jealousy when our own inadequacies are underscored by the effortless existence of others. He in turn finds Peco and in a moving scene convinces him to begin training again to not betray the image that Smile has of him.
This sets up the showdown between friends in an upcoming tournament and the obligatory training scenes follow.
"Do you believe in heroes?" Smile did and he wanted to continue to believe so much that he was willing to sacrifice his own talent to not shatter his image of Peco. In the beginning of the film Peco answered that question with, "only in comic books," but by the end he became every bit the hero that Smile always knew that he was.
The film score for Ping Pong was my one big disappointment. The score was filled with distracting Japanese pop music with vocals that were under mixed and layered over the dialogue. This breaks so many filmmaking courtesy laws that I was shocked by how out of place it was in this otherwise adeptly made work. I did not have much time in my synopsis to delve into the respective coaches of Peco and Smile, but their performances really did steal the show.
Ping Pong is part Searching for Bobby Fisher, part Amadeus and part Karate Kid . It concerns itself with an individualís responsibility to talent, jealousy of the God given gift of mad ping pong skillz and has training for a tournament thrown on top that for good measure. The movie manages to bring together these complex characters and weave what is at times a moving and charming human story. When the credits begin to roll we haven't gained much insight into the sport of ping pong, but we have learned a great deal about friendship and human nature.
Note: China, the character played by Sam Lee in the film, hails from Shang Hai, yet he speaks Cantonese with a Hong Kong accent. People from Shang Hai actually speak Mandarin and not Cantonese. As a fluent speaker of Cantonese I found his tone to be way off and his inflection was wrong for his lines. His poor acting irritated me to no end. This shouldn't influence most viewers of this film however, so I did not factor this into the Film Grade Formula. See below.
Film Grade Formula
Screenplay: +1 1/2*
Virtual Fighter: +1/2*
Musical Score: -1*
Final Score: *** out of a scale of ****
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