To be perfectly blunt, Ping Pong Playa is third-rate crap. Unfunny crap. Unnecessary crap. This little entertainment is also unintentionally racist, misogynistic, homophobic, poorly acted, and shapeless. Unquestionably, if P.P.P.'s director had been a white man, he would now be receiving more opprobrium than Griffith for Birth of a Nation, the film that single-handedly revived the K.K.K.
That Jessica Yu, who gave birth to this blatantly boring bit of unwatchable celluloid, is a self-proclaimed "fifth-generation Chinese American with politically active parents," a deserved Oscar winner for her documentary short Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien, a disquieting look at a man paralyzed by polio and ensconced in an iron lung for four decades, and has helmed several other acclaimed, humane docs is nothing less than discombobulating.
Why for her very first narrative film would someone with her track record choose to co-write a screenplay about a "black-acting," Chinese-American imbecile who dreams of being a professional basket ballplayer?
"Time to get your ass up here, homie" is a prime example of P.P.P.'s dialogue. All of which raises the question that if a white person who's a "wannabe black" is called a wigger, does that make a Chinese American doing the same a chigger?
Lexicology aside, Christopher "C-dub" Wang (Jimmy Tsai) is not very good at basketball, unless he's playing against elementary school students. This fact doesn't seem to dampen his tedious bravado.
Neither does his inability to keep a job. Wang, consequently, lives at home, where he continuously plays video games and disrespects his hard-working parents and his doctor brother, who's a Ping Pong champion to boot.
However, when his bro's wrists are injured, Wang dejectedly winds up defending the family honor at the local Ping Pong championships. His main competition: a clichéd homosexual in extremely tight shorts with an equally clichéd sidekick. Throughout the film, this "queer" duo keeps coming on to little boys, allegedly wanting to teach them Ping Pong. We know better, don't we?
As for females, they don't fare any better here. Jennifer (Smith Cho) is an attractive, feminist doctoral student who gets smitten by the uneducated, creepy, charisma-less Wang. There goes the argument that women directors will depict the "fairer" sex with more dignity than their counterparts.
What's most sad here is that Asians Americans are still basically invisible on our mall screens. And, yes, the most talented Asian American actors still have a hard time getting parts unless there's a revival somewhere of Flower Drum Song. And when a part does come about, such as the Asian preacher in I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, it goes to Rob Schneider.
Margaret Cho, in her brilliant concert film Notorious C.H.O., lampoons the lack of acting opportunities available to her because of her Korean genes. She recalls she used to fantasize she could be Potsie's girlfriend on Happy Days or appear on an episode of M.A.S.H.
Imitating herself as a child, Cho ponders, "Maybe I could play a hooker in something! . . . I'd be looking in the mirror: "Sucky fucky two dollar. . . Me love you long time."
Noting the difficulty of making any indie film today, let alone one delving into the lives of Asian Americans, that anyone would waste her time on detritus like this one is dispiriting. But then, Lu's not the only culprit if you believe Woody Allen, who once noted, "In Beverly Hills... they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows." Maybe Lu just opted for too big a screen. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "Contemporary Israeli/Palestinian Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.