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Ping Pong DVD Review

Ping Pong DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Ping Pong
Movie & DVD Details

Director: Hugh Hartford / Producer: Anson Hartford

Featured Subjects: Les D'Arcy, Terry Donlon, Rune Forsberg, Lisa Modlich, Joachim Modlich, Ursula Bihl, Sun Yong Qing, Sun Yu, Inge-Brigitte Herman, Dorothy deLow, Blanca Alejo-Jackson, Paul D'Arcy, Jane D'Arcy

UK Theatrical Release: July 6, 2012 / Running Time: 80 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
DVD Release Date: September 10, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5) / Black Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy Ping Pong on DVD from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

When it comes to documentaries, the subjects well-suited to the format are typically the ones least likely to surprise and delight. A timely and weighty story needs to be told and can be told well, but it's the unexpected topics with the power to catch you off-guard and charm you enough to recommend.
Case in point: Ping Pong, a film that does for geriatric table tennis players what The King of Kong did for middle-aged arcade gamers.

Made by English brothers Anson and Hugh Hartford, this taut and highly appealing documentary takes us into the world of competitive ping pong for seniors aged 80 and up. Instead of remaining general and theoretical, this film takes a narrative approach, doing an outstanding job of distinguishing and developing characters. It takes its time to familiarize us with eight subjects from around the globe.

They include: Les D'Arcy, a fit as a fiddle 89-year-old Englishman who lifts weights and seems destined to add to his drawer of medals; his 81-year-old doubles partner Terry Donlon whose cancer recurrence casts doubt on his chances; Inner Mongolia's Sun Yong Qing, 80, who amusingly demonstrates the keys to his longevity: daily smokes and alcohol; a widowed North German newbie, 89, who hones her skills at her nursing home; confident Viennese Texan Lisa Modlich, 85, who is supported by a trophy husband twenty-one years her junior; and, last but not least, 100-year-old Australian legend Dorothy deLow.

Oozing confidence, 85-year-old Viennese-American Lisa Modlich is one of the most focal subjects of the 2012 documentary "Ping Pong."

Most of these individuals have achieved some kind of success, at least on a national level. Now, they're in China for the world championships divided by gender and age.
By the time we get there, shortly before the halfway point of this brisk 80-minute work, we are well-acquainted with these personalities, whose sharp wit and spryness give us something to aim for in old age. The Hartfords have laid such a sturdy foundation that it's impossible to turn away or tune out. You're invested enough to appreciate the suspense built, as a graphic informs us of "Matchpoint" and we get to see whether these bold characters advance to the next round or get eliminated.

It's top-notch cinema, more captivating than the vast majority of scripted and historical sports dramas. I didn't start watching the film until after midnight and expected to have to split it up into two viewings, but there was no way I was going to bed not knowing how the tournament ended for each of these players.

This is the kind of movie I'd love to see get recognized in the Academy Awards' Best Feature Documentary category: a well-made, feel-good tale you don't want to end. Even if it was eligible, which I doubt it still is, having been first theatrically exhibited in the UK back in July 2012, there's no way it would advance to even the 15-film shortlist stage, the Academy being obligated to do justice to topics like war, AIDS, and counterterrorism. In fairness, those heavy topics do yield some gripping cinema and you can argue that this year's winner Searching for Sugar Man, about a short-lived folk singer's distant popularity, was a light, uplifting human interest piece akin to Ping Pong.

Having not been treated to more than the isolated screening in the US, Ping Pong comes to DVD on Tuesday from Docurama and Cinedigm.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The DVD's picture quality is good. The film's 2.40:1 aspect ratio is unusual for a documentary, but it lends nicely to the game of ping pong. The picture is sharp and sufficiently cinematic throughout, while the burned-in subtitles used to translate foreign dialogue pose no problems. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit better than expected too. Sadly, player-generated English SDH subtitles for the entire film are not provided, which is sure to deter some viewers of advancing age. Closed captioning is supposedly offered in their absence, but I couldn't access them on my television (whose HDMI connection renders them inaccessible) or DVD-ROM.

A band called The Bees record the song "Eye on the Prize" in the first of the DVD's nine bonus feature clips. Young, mustachioed trophy husband Joachim Modlich shares some of his philosophies adorning his Houston home in this deleted segment.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The disc supplies a list of nine extras, most of which seem to fit the case's "Extended and Deleted Scenes" mention.
The one exception is the clip of The Bees recording the original song "Eye on the Prize." The unused bits show us more of Les D'Arcy's athletic lifestyle and poetry, his heretofore unknown harmonica skill, more thoughts from Sun Yong Qing and his daughter, reflections and home movies with Terry Donlon, and a closer look at the Modlichs' Houston house (and Mr. Modlich's philosophy). The entire lot runs 14 minutes and 49 seconds with the unusual, useful "Play All" listing.

The other item mentioned on the packaging -- a theatrical trailer -- is disappointingly absent from the platter.

The three static, silent menu screens take their imagery and color scheme from the cover art.

No inserts or slipcovers jazz up the plain keepcase, but it does at least sport full-color disc art adapted from the cover.

Australia's 100-year-old Dorothy deLow is the oldest and seemingly most famous of the world championship's player. Ridiculously active 89-year-old Englishman Les D'Arcy seems to have an extreme advantage over the competition.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Supremely watchable and really fun, Ping Pong is one documentary well worth checking out. The DVD is basic, but the film is good enough not to require any more than that for a recommendation.

Buy Ping Pong from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 9, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 HanWay Films, BritDoc Films, Banyak Films, Channel 4, and 2013 Cinedigm and Docurama Marvista Entertainment, Two 4 the Money Media, and 2013 ARC Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.