Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Balls of Fury


Imagine an alternate universe where ping-pong is as popular as professional wrestling, with all the screaming fans and outrageous costumes and antics for the players. Okay, I know it’s not easy, but try. It is very big in China, you know. So we have Randy Daytona, a twelve-year-old prodigy competing in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and he disgraces himself. He becomes the punchline to jokes. Twenty years later he has a pathetic act playing to cheap buffet patrons in a third-rate casino in Reno. The very definition of a has-been. But then he is approached by an FBI agent who wants him to bring down the notorious Feng, a crime lord whose big weakness is that he fancies himself a really good ping-pong player. So Randy infiltrates the jungle hideout where Feng is staging black-market tournaments … and finds out that these are death matches. You lose, you die!

Not interested? What if I told you that Feng was played by Christopher Walken? And that he is described as a man who “shops for clothes at Elton John’s garage sale”? Walken can do deadpan black humor, as in Pulp Fiction, or joke-a-minute parody, like this one. What this satirizes is those godawful kung phooey movies from Hong Kong. It takes every opportunity to stick a chopstick up the butt of those films. Like, Randy descends to the corrupt, dark underbelly of the Chinatown ping-pong scene, where “fortunes are made and lost at the flick of a paddle.” And a super tough guy slaps a $5 bill on the table and sneers “I bet foah dollah! You got change? This all I have on me.” Then he must beat the undefeated champ, the legendary Dragon! Who turns out to be a ten-year-old schoolgirl who cries when he returns her “never been returned” deadly serve. When he goes over to console her she kicks him in the nuts hard enough to lift him off his feet. “This not over, gwailo!” If this type of humor appeals to you, as it does to me, this is a pretty good example. I’ve seen others try it with much less success.