Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Send In The Clown

We see it all the time. A legendary film gets scheduled for a remake (The Women, My Fair Lady) because a director wants to mess with a classic, a star needs a new vehicle, or studio executives smell money. All too often, a new film designed to capitalize on a tried-and-true formula implodes under the weight of a lack of inspiration. And then, out of left field, a newcomer hits one out of the ballpark with such strength and surety that it leaves your head spinning.

When I first saw Ping Pong Playa at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the audience in the Clay Theater was having such a good time that some jokes were drowned out by laughter. At a recent press screening, Jessica Yu's film held up magnificently.

There's nothing all that new about the story of a family whose No. 1 son can do no wrong and whose No. 2 son is a bit of a fuckup. You know how it goes. When No. 1 son gets injured, No. 2 son is called upon to save the family's honor. Can the black sheep of the family do it? Can No. 2 son rise above his basic sloth, stupidity and incompetence to save the day?

"Been there, done that," you're probably thinking. That only means you haven't encountered the feverish imagination of Jimmy Tsai, the film's dynamic star and gifted co-author, whose Opium Pandamonium website demands your attention. Tsai's trash-talking, Chinese gangsta "C-Dub" character first surfaced in a series of ads he created for his Venom Sportswear clothing line which features "clothing for the bad-ass motherfuckin' Asian American athlete with an attitude that yo' mama wouldn't approve." Trust me, it's worth spending a half hour of your time exploring the Venom Sportswear website just to watch Tsai's hilarious commercials aimed at basketball and poker enthusiasts.

By imbuing a classic plot line with an Asian-American sensitivity, Tsai and Yu have created a comedic vehicle which moves so fast -- and with such rapid-paced fury -- that it could leave Judd Apatow panting and breathless in its wake. Ping Pong Playa also marks the film debut of a rising comedy star which, when you consider that Tsai's day job has been as Director of Finance and Development for Cherry Sky Films, only makes his triumph that much more delicious.

Still, you don't get a good film without solid direction (Jessica Yu), clean, cutthroat editing (Zene Baker), and a cast of talented deadpan comedians. In addition to to MadTV's Stephanie Weir, Ping Pong Playa reunites the team of Peter Paige and Scott Lowell (who played Emmett Honeycutt and Ted Schmidt on Queer As Folk) as two gay ping pong players from West Covina who are trying to muscle in on the Wang family's franchise and appeal to Anglophiles with delusions of grandeur. These two gifted actors haven't lost any of their comedic chops.

Khary Payton scores strongly as C-Dub's fast-talking friend, J.P. Money. Jim Lau offers paternal backup as C-Dub's father while Roger Fan plays No. 1 son with a sense of having been the family favorite throughout his life. However, three young kids who become C-Dub's acolytes nearly steal the film. Andrew Vo plays Felix, whose sexy, supersmart sister Jennifer (Smith Cho) captivates C-Dub's mind. Javin Reid is a joy as Prabakar, the Indian boy genius with no physical coordination and a complete lack of social skills. As a tubby Chinese boy who keeps shoving food in his face and shouting "Boo-yah!" Kevin Chung he is pure comedic gold.

Watching the trailer for Ping Pong Playa below will only give you a hint of the amount of fun and laughter this movie has in store for you. Don't miss it!

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