Mongolian Ping Pong begins with the image of a family having its picture taken against a photo-tapestry of Tiananmen Square, the director’s camera eventually panning to reveal the scene’s actual, striking Mongolian steppe setting. It’s a fitting visual equation of the urban and the rural, as director Ning Hao’s portrait of nomadic Mongolian society elevates its hinterlands locale to the realm of the majestically iconic. Out on the grassland plains and beneath blue skies crowded with billowy clouds, seven-year-old Bilike (Hurichabilike) happens upon an adventure when he discovers a ping pong ball floating in a stream. Having never seen such a thing before, the boy and his two friends embark on a mission to find out what the ball is, with Bilike’s grandmother stating it’s the “glowing pearl” of a river spirit, mystified monks offering no answer, and a traveling carnival’s projectionist—once he finishes showing a Chinese movie about golf—finally revealing the object’s true identity. After misunderstanding a television commentator’s claim that the ball is “the national ball,” the trio endeavors to return it to Beijing, but Hao’s film is less about the outcome of the boys’ quest than it is about the youthful relationships (and maturation) of its pint-sized protagonists, the gloriousness of its scenery—which exhibits a painterly splendor during scenes at dusk in which the darkness of the sky and Earth seem to sandwich the blue-lit horizon—and the contact between its simple characters and the mysterious, alluring modern world. Paralleling the kids’ enthrallment with the titular ball, Bilike’s dad enthusiastically uses an electric shaver, is impressed by coffee (“American tea”), and yearns to construct the type of windmill seen in an Elle magazine ad titled “Perfect Life,” while the father of Bilike’s friend Dawa (Dawa) attempts to receive TV broadcasts with an antenna constructed from a sheep-herding stick, metal plates, and beer cans. In this intermingling of contemporary civilization and traditional Mongolian culture—as well as in the breathtaking cinematographic depiction of its unspoiled setting—the reverential, condescension-free Mongolian Ping Pong cultivates a spellbinding atmosphere of amazement. And in its magnificent final shot, the film, more than any in recent memory, taps into a palpable, overpowering sense of childhood wonder.
- First Run Features
- 102 min
- Ning Hao
- Ning Hao
- Hurichabilike, Dawa, Geliban, Yidexinnaribu, Badema, Wurina, Dugema, Jinlaowu, Buhebilike, Sarengaowa, Jirimu
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