Chris "C-Dub" Wang (Jimmy Tsai) is stuck into the very place he never wanted to be: taking up the family business. His parents own a ping-pong store in Los Angeles, his brother Michael (Roger Fan) is a wholesome table tennis champ who attracts the locals to sign up for their mother's ping-pong classes at the Chinese Community Center. So when his mother and brother get into a car accident they have no one to turn to but C-Dub, a lazy, unmotivated, wannabe playground baller who wants to "represent" as the great yellow hope, but just really wants to get by. Reading comics and playing video games are the only things that inspire him, well that and an A-class honey -- surely a one-sided romance. C-Dub's so hot-headed he swears all the time, but the audience barely hears it because every time he does, the sound of a bouncing basketball is dubbed over. He's every immigrant parents' nightmare and it pains the Wangs to depend on him. It pains C-Dub too.
For a few weeks he inherits a class of nerds and dweebs, all of whom were enrolled by their parents, all of whom have no athletic skills, but they do have interest and it's up to C-Dub to keep the good family name and teach them right. Somehow, gambling and hustling people for money are the only things the kids learn and the family is let down. But there is a chance for redemption, and that's to win the local ping-pong tournament. It's predictable, and simplified for a more general audience but still enjoyable because it comes from the view of an Asian-American family, a point-of-view rarely seen in entertainment.
This is a comedy of experience and recognizable situations that tow the line of stereotypes, but in good natured self-drubbing. Eating staples such as Spam, cuttlefish, and drinking Boba Tea don't seem like comedic devices, but Asians in touch with their culture do. The way that they are berated by their parents who in the same turn brag about their children to their friends, is a cultural difference that's quite common in all Asian cultures. And the lack of nurturing by the same parents in what their children actually enjoy and instead place them in more academic and high society interests is something many Asian-Americans can relate to. It's all presented here, bouncing back and forth from English to Chinese with subtitles, an interplay between first generation immigrants and their second generation children.
Now all of this can be quite awkward, and I don't expect everyone reading this to agree, but once it's understood that's the perspective from which the story is told (Tsai co-wrote Ping Pong Playa, his first screenplay with director, Jessica Yu) the film can be seen for what it is: a generational and sweet family comedy made by people who have enough smarts and humor to poke fun at themselves. PPP points out that in America, where you're constantly being told from all directions on how to act, what to buy, and how to live, it's easy to want to separate from our roots sometimes. But it's still okay to embrace them every once in a while because they're always there to embrace you back.
PPP is graced with a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer in 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors have a good reproduction. Textures and details like graying hair color in the elders and skin tones are accurate. Also of note are the good contrast and apparent depth which allow you to look at all of the hodge podge decor and clutter. Blacks are at a satisfactory deep level but there aren't a lot of scenes where you can really test them out as most of the scenes are at daytime or inside a well-lit interior. A natural veil of grain is present throughout and some unnatural dark scenes and noise in the interview spots with "Jon" Howard but it's safe to say that's how it was intentionally shot and not an indication of added artifacts.
The bulk of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio comes from the front, mostly from the center. Dialogue is crisp and recorded at a comfortable level. The sound stage comes alive whenever there is music, most of which is hip-hop and that's when the subwoofer undoubtedly kicks in. The bass has a lot of weight to it and compliments the scenes where the music is used but is never overdone. Some of that music travels to the rear channels, which is really the most activity they get. There's a major missed opportunity to have the ping pong balls travel to the back speakers that would have enhanced the home experience.
'Ping Pong Playa' definitely plays to a PG-13, Asian-American crowd, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by others. I'm encouraged to see more movies like this being made, because there's a recognition that there is a broader diversity in storytelling still needed in Hollywood films and that they can be made. Even though it may have only traveled the film festival circuit, I think this blu-ray is a great family and generational gap-bridging film, but I'll also admit that living the Asian-American experience enhances PPP. Audio and video are solid, but not reference material, and the extras highlighted by a good commentary are enough to justify a rental and purchase for fans. It may not have all the ingredients to be to everyone's liking, but for some, it's just the film they're been starving for.