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It’s good to be Christopher Wang. He lives in a nice suburban home with a nice family so indulgent towards the twenty-something-year-old that his underachieving lifestyle and series of dead-end jobs rate only a general exasperated sigh. In the shadow of his doctor elder brother, Christopher Wang is validated by his alter ego, C-dub, the coolest guy on the playground. In that corner of his world, C-dub is king; spouting unique Pro-Asian philosophies in rapid-fire hip-hop patois, sporting his variety of Yao Ming basketball jerseys, or simply opening a can of slam-dunk on the elementary school kids silly enough to challenge his authority. Yes, it’s good to be C-dub.

That is, until the day that he unwittingly causes a minor car accident leaves his mother without the capability to run her ping pong class and his older brother unable to defend his championship in The Golden Cock table tennis tournament. All C-dub’s notions of cool are affronted as he unwillingly takes over his mother’s class of ping pong playing misfits and defends not only his family’s honour, but indeed the honour of the entire Chinese race by winning The Golden Cock.

Yes, the premise is indeed nuts (N.P.I.), but Ping Pong Playa is a comedy so fresh and winning that it all makes sense. At the heart of Ping Pong Playa’s humour is a culture clash within C-dub’s own home. As a Chinese-American born in the age of the internet and cable television, C-dub is a walking collage of millions of pieces of pop culture. C-dub’s the black sheep of his respectable, hardworking family, a happy slacker living for video games, colourful cereal and Cinnebon at the mall. The worst thing that could happen to his ultra-smooth self-image is to be dragged into the family’s ping pong-playing ways. The innate nerdishness of the sport offends C-dub’s very soul, but even he bows to the family’s will after a fashion when their table tennis empire is threatened by a competing ping pong class.

There is a lot to love about Ping Pong Playa; the script is sharp and savvy, yet happy to revel in inspired silliness. I challenge moviegoers to forget C-dub’s look of pride as he rolls around town on an amped-up minibike; and when I say minibike, I mean a bright green creation about 18 inches high at the handle bars. Only C-dub’s misdirected sense of cool would find this full grown man so thrilled to sit on the back of something that looks like it was last owned by Ringling Brothers. The movie allows C-dub to be a clown, yet he’s never a one-note joke: Yes, there are those laugh at moments, but there are many more laugh with sequences and just plain funny dialog. You don’t have to be Chinese to find the humour in C-dub’s father waking him every morning clanging pots and pans and bellowing Chinese opera while frying Spam in a wok. C-dub’s mom’s discomfiture as she and other mothers battle it out for maternal superiority comparing their children’s’ accomplishments is a hoot. C-dub’s “successful” brother the doctor, this Golden Child has no prospects for a mate due to his impossibly stringent “8 Commandments” that any woman he dates must follow. C-dub’s introduction to “regulation” table tennis shorts is pure comedy win. Watching C-dub get worked up at imagined racial slights is funny enough, but those scenes also serve to point out how selectively sensitive he is and the nervous reactions of those who innocuously cause his indignation is a thoughtful chime in on how overly politically correct we’ve become.

There’s a real sweetness to Ping Pong Playa, as well, the inclusion of the adorable young ping pong nerds who become C-dub’s acolytes (- one is even instructed to call him “sifu”) manage to nearly drag C-dub kicking and screaming into responsible adulthood. C-dub’s family dynamic is unique and notable because we’re shown an actual functional family, albeit with one lackadaisical goofball in the mix. What’s refreshing is the way they actually do get along and care for each other and are funny in the way that real families are. Many of the tried and true film devices don’t apply here; C-dub’s parents aren’t pleased at their youngest’s lack of ambition, but they clearly love him and in some manner accept his faults, whereas perhaps in other films his slack (- and his family’s reaction to it) might have been the whole story and most of the comedy. It’s a small bit of heartwarming when C-dub’s dad decides to train him for the tournament because it’s rare to see a normal father figure - slightly goofy as in the way of most dads, but involved and nurturing - who believes in his son despite being given every reason – mostly by C-dub himself - not to.

Truly a bright and funny picture, Ping Pong Playa is deftly directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Jessica Yu, who exhibits great wisdom in her choices and a real flair for so-silly-it’s-smart comedy in her first narrative feature. Her cast is delightful, particularly Jim Lau as C-dub’s father and Khary Payton as C-dub’s supportive running buddy JP Money. The contrast to his wanksta-hip, tradition-bucking pal, JP is an African-American young man who painstakingly suffers through first grade Chinese classes in his quest to conquer the emerging Chinese business market. Yu cast three adorable kids Andrew Vo, Javin Reid and Kevin Chung for C-dub’s students/cheering squad who are sweet without being precious. There are wonderful spots by Queer-as-Folk’s Peter Paige and Scott Lowell as the sleazy ping pong usurpers and MadTV’s Stephnie Weir as the culturally awkward tournament director.  Keeping with the Asian-American theme, Ping Pong Playa also enlists a funky-fresh soundtrack featuring songs by Far East Movement and Chops that would certainly have met C-dub’s approval.

The fact that it was originally believed that another actor would be cast as Christopher “C-dub” Wang is unfathomable, as this very literally is the role Jimmy Tsai was born to play. C-dub was Tsai’s creation after all, originating from a series of very funny short films that served as Ping Pong Playa’s inspiration. Under Yu’s skillful direction, inflating the character to fit a full-fledged feature takes nothing away from the snap of Tsai’s performance. He is a natural and his hilarious id, C-dub, is a character whose further adventures I would be only too happy to follow for many sequels to come.

Well done.


~ Mighty Ganesha

Sept. 1st, 2008


Click here for our fabulous exclusive chat with Oscar-winning Director Jessica Yu and C-dub himself, Jimmy Tsai.


PPS: C-dub’s short films (- and some really sweet gear) can be found at http://www.venomsportswear.com




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