Weight-lifting. Autograph-signing. Media interviews. Coaches. At the international level, senior ping pong players have it all.
Ping Pong is a captivating and dramatic look into the lives of eight elderly competitors as they prepare for and play in the World Championships in China.
The characters that director Hugh Hartford chooses to follow are as intriguing as their titles. United States women’s champion Lisa Modlich, 83, is a feisty Texan who makes wisecracks about her competitors from the sidelines. Seven-time world champ and England native Les D’Arcy, 89, is cheerier and in better shape than most 20-somethings. At 100 years young, world champion Dorothy De Low is bombarded with media attention in her homeland of Australia and abroad.
After hooking viewers with participants’ stories, Hartford makes great use of dramatic shots to get non-ping pong fans into the game. Close-ups of players noticeably wincing when they lose and jumping for joy when they win make you want to shout at their opponents or cheer along with them.
Cuts to packed stands, media coverage of the tournament and fans approaching players for autographs on the street reveal that ping pong is more important than most give the sport credit for.
While the characters are the crux of the film, Hartford errs in having too many of them. The back-and-forth transition to a menu-like graphic of characters with their native flags is a tiring cutaway in-between the eight player introductions. Fortunately, Hartford is able to pick up the pace as the quirky seniors travel to China and take in the sights.
Despite your initials thoughts on the sport, Ping Pong stands a good chance at making you a fan. Even if you still don’t get it, the quirky seniors the documentary follows are well worth watching. As one player’s wife remarks, “I don’t understand it at all, but it is interesting if you know the people playing.”