Directed by Hugh Hartford
3 1/2 stars out of five
The competitive ping pong on view in this Brit documentary does not resemble the sport as played by youthful Olympians who stand about 10 feet away from the table, smashing and darting like tennis players.
The reason for that? The film's subjects are all over the age of 80.
But the movie doesn't patronize or cutesy up its senior subjects. Indeed, the viewer is awed into a kind of respect for these close-to-the-table athletes, including an Englishman named Les D'Arcy who, at 89, trains by lifting weights and cuts an impressive figure in the ping pong arena.
His sometime partner Terry Donlon, 81, is no less impressive. Having battled cancer for years, he occasionally has to stop play to rest his arms on the table, gasping for breath.
One fears director Hugh Hartford's camera will witness his collapse and demise any minute. But he soldiers on. And one can't help but be impressed. Many of the players depicted here may actually be flirting with death as they take on the rigours of a ping pong event in China.
One female competitor says she would rather die at the ping pong table than die in a hospital. You have to respect that.
Hartford's subjects are a diverse lot. One 85-year-old woman named Lisa Modlich, from Houston, seems a particularly aggressive competitor, given to trash-talk. One is inclined to dislike her until she discusses her history, which includes working for the French Underground during the Second World War.
Perhaps the most inspirational reason to see the film is a German woman named Inge Hermann whose late-in-life passion for the game may have helped reverse a bout with dementia.
Less inspirational but still perversely admirable: an 80-year-old gent from inner Mongolia who refuses to quit smoking.
Ping Pong isn't really a movie about ping pong. It's a movie about aging gracefully, and it teaches by example.
Selected excerpts of reviews of Ping Pong.
This is not a film about ping pong; this is a film about living in the moment and not being afraid of your own mortality, and it puts anyone who's ever complained about a sore joint to shame.
-- Liz Beardsworth, Empire
"By the time they have worked their way up to the finals, you are emotionally invested enough in each of their stories you are genuinely caught up in the often fierce competition."
-- Rob Salem, Toronto Star