At the over-80 world ping pong championships, everyone wins. Sort of.
DIRECTED BY HUGH HARTFORD (UK, World Spectrum)
Sunday, April 29, 4:00 p.m.
Wednesday, May 2, 1:30 p.m.
Isabel Bader Theatre (93 Charles Street West)
Sunday, May 6, 1:15 p.m.
Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (506 Bloor Street West)
Agility. Speed. Passion. Octogenarians. As far as word associations go, this is a rather unlikely grouping, but it is what comes to mind when talking about the high-stakes world of over-80 table tennis. Following eight individuals from Germany, England, Australia, the United States, Sweden and China, Ping Pong paints a lively picture of this small competitive circuit that, for those involved, has become their whole life, and quite possibly their last chance at glory.
As with any discussion of the elderly, the question of death hovers around every corner. Rather than eschew this, Ping Pong opens with the reigning over-80 world champ, Terry, in hospital. In a twist cruel enough for a Shakespearean tragedy, a cancerous tumour is pressing on his vertebrate, affecting his ability to move his fingers. The documentary then jumps back six months, following the competitors’ training regime as they prepare to leave for the world championships in Inner Mongolia. The film chooses its subjects wisely, from the coquettish Lisa (who in her 80s seems as young as her 60 year old husband); to Inga, who, after the death of her husband, took up table tennis as means to battle dementia; or Sun, who drinks rice wine and smokes.
The film is at its strongest when weaving together the competitors’ back stories; not lingering on the past, but instead focusing on the present and their current quest towards becoming world champions. It’s as if the film, like its subjects, knows there’s only so much time left.