A race-based comedy with a mischievous, post-race sensibility, Ping Pong Playa mines hip-hop comedy gold from the least gangsta context imaginable: the assimilated Chinese-Americans of suburban California.
As Christopher Wang, the underachieving son of Ping-Pong entrepreneurs, Jimmy Tsai gently but hilariously burlesques hip-hop as a youth culture lingua franca. On the surface this is a matter of swagger and slang (what up, my ninja?!), but there's a deeper, touching acknowledgment of braggadocio as persona, how the commodified dissent of hip-hop lends itself to masking insecurities.
Mr. Tsai wrote the film with the director, Jessica Yu, a filmmaker best known for In the Realms of the Unreal, her inventive if overdesigned documentary about the outsider artist Henry Darger. Ms. Yu's visual flair enlivens the verbal panache of her feature debut; Ping Pong Playa is a bright, nimble diversion, a quick-witted picture that's fast on its feet.
That comedic pep is a boon, given the formulaic plot, which finds Christopher pressed into filling in for his injured mother at the local community center, teaching Ping-Pong to assorted goofballs, then enlisting them as his grasshopper posse when he enters a table tennis tournament. En route to the big game come a few of the usual elements - a love interest; training montages; silly, neo-imperialist white dudes - and a lot of fresh and funny insights.