Ping Pong

A/B side VIBES. Greatest Hits from ‘80s & ‘90s
Tribute to Po-Chih Leong


Ping pong


UK, 1986, 100’, English, Cantonese
Directed by: Po-Chih Leong
Screenplay: Po-Chih Leong, Jerry Liu
Photography (color): Nicholas D. Knowland
Editing: David Spiers
Production Design: Colin Pigott
Music: Richard Harvey
Producers: Malcolm Craddock, Michael Guest
Cast: David Yip (Mike Wong), Lucy Sheen (Elaine Choy), Robert Lee (Mr Chen), Lam Fung (Ah Ying), Victor Kan (Shu Loong), Barbara Yu Ling (Cherry), Ric Young (Alan Wong), Victoria Wicks (Alan’s Wife), Stephen Kuk (Uncle Choi), Rex Wei (A Chee), Hi Ching (Jimmy)


Premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 1986, Po-Chih Leong’s Ping Pong not only is the first all-Asian cast film for Channel 4 Television in the United Kingdom but, more importantly, is also one of the earliest films depicting experience of Chinese immigrants with such authenticity and compassion that it is hard to find its equal even to date.
Ping Pong is also among the few films in which Leong is also involved as a screenwriter. 
“Homeland? Which one?” says young British-Chinese lawyer Elaine, when prompted by an officer in the Chinese Embassy to “go back to your homeland.” What defines home, indeed, where one was born, where one’s roots are, or the land which one has inhabited and become a citizen? The answer is constantly being defined, and the fluidity (if also ambiguity) of it, especially at our time of globalisation, is epitomised in such current work as French-Cambodian director Davy Chou’s multiple award-winning Return to Seoul (2022). Leong’s gentle but not light-weighted remark here represents how he is so ahead of his time in considering the notion of identity and immigration. Set mostly in the Chinatown of London, Elaine is tasked with the responsibility to execute the will of Sam Wong, who has died mysteriously in a telephone booth. Sam’s arrangements do not meet with agreements from his sons Mike and Alan, his daughter Cherry, and even his wife Ah Ying. Soon Elaine finds herself navigating (or, ping pong-ing) not only intricate family relationships but also everyone’s concept of home and achievement. Ping Pong balances itself between fragments of Chinese immigrants struggling to establish and maintain a presence in a world that is foreign to them and for which they are foreign (most obvious in the accounts by Ah Ying and Sam’s friend, Mr Chen), and nuanced details of how these immigrants and their style are perceived by locals. 
Leong’s approach is tender and humorous. Stereotyping on both sides are shown in a light-hearted manner through an amusing scene in which some British customers try to place orders in Sam’s restaurant: the waiter Jimmy (although he doesn’t take up much screen time, he has such a dynamic presence that serves to counter the otherwise gloomy Wongs) manages to predict their order before the guests even start to think…!
A more sophisticated and subtle look at how racism manifests itself is reflected in a conversation between a British representative from the Court of Probate and Elaine. When the Brit expresses his surprise at how the Chinese looking Elaine “speaks such good English,” she replies with ease, “same reason as you do.” Which certainly reminds one of the famous exchange between Ethan and Scar regarding how good they are at mastering each other’s language, in one of the most complex films about racism, The Searchers (John Ford, 1956). 
At the centre of Ping Pong is the very Chinese concept of reconciliation. The reconciliation between obligation and personal interests, the reconciliation among family members who each must confront their person desires, and on a deeper level, the reconciliation between oneself and one’s root. It is perhaps not a coincidence that the reconciliations are made possible through Elaine, an embodiment of both Chinese and British cultures, and who throughout the film is the one who is willing to shift her perception as she proceeds and understands.  
As a British-Chinese himself, Ping Pong could have been Leong’s most personal. In any case, it is certainly one of his most serious and moody pieces, featuring beautiful lyrical camera work and thoughtful mise-en-scene, with some very effective dolly out shots that serve to denote the tension of the situation and sometimes, the perplexity of the characters.  
Leong’s bitter-sweet tale about Chinese/Hong Kong immigrants is more relevant than ever. 


FILMOGRAPHY: see Hong Kong 1941

Kiki Fung
Film director: Po-Chih LEONG
Year: 1986
Running time: 101'
Country: UK
21/04 - 05:00 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
21-04-2023 17:00 21-04-2023 18:41Europe/Rome Ping Pong Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine