"So it might not be a masterpiece, but it's a great and supremely enjoyable piece of quality filmmaking."
Ping Pong (2002)
Director: Sori Fumihiko
Cast: Yosuke Kubozuka, Arata, Sam Lee, Shido Nakamura, Koji Ogura, YosiYosi Arakawa, Takahiro Hirano, Mako Ishino, Koen Kondo, Erika Mabuchi, Suzuki Matsuo, Asumi Miwa, Ayumu Moriyama, Mari Natsuki, Akira Nishihara, Satoshi Oe, Mikio Sato, Kenichi Suemitsu
Running Time: 114 min.
Plot: Follow the tale of two high school students, Peco and Smile, in a world of extreme sport, where small plastic balls travel in a 274 cm. x 152.5 cm. court at 140 kilometers per hour: Ping Pong.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: So it takes 21 points to win a ping pong match, eh? My review then, with 21 reasons why Ping Pong should be on your must-watch list.
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: 8.5/10
EQUINOX21'S REVIEW: There are sports movies that focus on the sport as the story and then there are GOOD sports movie that focus on the people as the story, who just happen to play a sport. Ping Pong is a great example of the latter. Combining the right amounts of drama, action and terrific comedy, Ping Pong is one of the better movies in the sports film genre.
Peco and Smile are good friends and on the same ping pong team in high school. They've known each other since they were kids and Peco has always been Smile's hero ever since he protected Smile from bullies. Peco introduced Smile (who is called Smile because he never does) to the game which Smile only uses as a way to kill time, as he repeatedly states. Neither ever place as high as their potential would allow in tournaments, mainly because Peco is flashy and a braggart who doesn't practice enough to truly be the best and Smile seems to let people win to spare their feelings. That is until they both learn some life-lessons and dedicate themselves. I think it's obvious to see where this is going.
The movie is brilliant. Especially terrific is the acting. The comedy only works because of the acting being top notch. The game, while the main plot point, isn't the main focus of the movie. It's the characters and their relationships and knowledge of the inherent abilities and skills that are sometimes dormant in the player that really makes this movie work so well. It's amusing to see a movie where a person is such an expert at their particular sport that they can analyze exactly how another person is playing simply by the sound or knowing a "look in their eye". That's very much what this movie is like. There are two tiers of players, experts with the inherent skill of the game, and those that try as hard as they can and practice for as long as possible and only reach the very edges of where the upper tiered player inherently resides.
The film does have a good, solid message in addition to be a really enjoyable and funny film. It's highly recommended.
EQUINOX21'S RATING: 10/10
LEN'S REVIEW: This film could've gone wrong in so many ways. Fumihiko Masuri is a first time director, the film is based on a popular manga (I can't remember any decent manga adaptations no matter how hard I try) and has ridiculous amounts of CGI (some of which doesn't look too hot). So it was a bit of a surprise to notice that this film does infact rock. And I'm talking about seriously rocking (like Iggy And The Stooges in their Fun House and Raw Power era). Somehow all the things that could've gone wrong did not and actually worked out marvellously. The end result is quite possibly one of the funniest japanese comedies I've seen in awhile.
Peco (Yosuke Kubozuka) and Smile (Arata) are best friends who play ping pong with varying degrees of obsession. While Smile plays the game mostly to kill time and because he's got nothing better to do, Peco wants to eventually become a pro and go travel the world playing Ping Pong. While both of them have got talent, Smile is actually much better than Peco and continuously loses intentionally because he doesn't want to shatter Peco's dreams of being the best player. However, reality steps in, forcing Peco and Smile to re-evaluate their lives. While Peco's life is destroyed as he notices he's not nearly as good as he thought he was, Smile is forced by his coach Butterfly Joe (the always excellent Naoto Takenaka) to start training properly to become the no.1 ping pong player.
Ping Pong is essentially a story about a group of people. While the focus is on the two heroes, Peco and Smile, the film succeeds very well in giving the supporting cast their moments in the spotlight. And that's maybe what makes Ping Pong such a glorious success. Peco and Smile are both interesting characters, but the supporting cast is a such a great collection of characters without it, the movie would be rather dull. Sam Lee does a great job as China, the former pro who fell off the Chinese national team and is now forced to play in Japan against amateurs. Koji Akura and Shido Nakamura are excellent as Akuma and Dragon from a rival school and serve as great, memorable opponents for Peco and Smile. Naoto Takenaka does a great job as Butterfly Joe, who wants Smile to make up for the lost opportunities he had in his youth while Mari Natsuke is unforgettable as the wise Obaba who turns Peco's life around after his fall from grace.
I haven't read the original manga myself, so I can't comment on how accurate this is as an adaptation. I can however say that it's a very successful adaptation. The storyline is well written, filled with great dialogue and unforgettable characters, the editing is crisp and as mentioned earlier, the cast is simply wonderful. The highlights of the film are obviously the ping pong matches themselves and they are shot with pleasing clarity. The editing isn't awfully fast and not once did I feel like I was watching a music video, despite the techno playing in the background (Takkyu Ishino, Ken Ishii and other stuff like that, none of that boring shit you hear in discos and such.). Fumihiko Masuri allows the actors to keep the matches interesting and doesn't obscure the playing with confusing camera angles or messy editing. Like I said earlier, ridiculous amounts of CGI is used, but it's used with taste and mostly to help the actors succeed in the kind of playing that not even real ping pong professionals could accomplish.
It's not a perfect film however. While I understand the way the beginning is somewhat slow and the matches in the beginning aren't especially flashy to make the contrast between them and the matches in the finale more significant, I do feel that the first half of the film could've been more involving. This is not to say that the film is boring at any point, because it most certainly is not, but the beginning of the film could've had more energy. Complaining about that feels somewhat ridiculous though, considering all the great scenes and moments that made this one of my favorite films of this year. So it might not be a masterpiece, but it's a great and supremely enjoyable piece of quality filmmaking.
LEN'S RATING: 9/10