Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Top Spin (SAAFF 2016) - Documentary Review

Top Spin is a documentary feature film created by co directors Sara Newens and Mina T. Son. The film, an official and opening night selection of the 2016 Seattle Asian American Film Festival, focuses on three amateur table tennis players on their journey to compete in the 2012 Olympic games .

The Story:
Teenagers Ariel Hsing (above) and Lily Zhang (below) have been competing against each other since they were very young and the two have emerged as some of the best young table tennis players in the country. Michael Landers is the youngest person to ever win a table tennis national championship in the United States and is considered a favorite to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. This film follows along and gives us an inside look as these three amazing young athletes compete and prepare for some of the most important days of their lives.

The Review:
We have all had the same thought after seeing what this documentary us about and yes, ping pong can be the subject of a very compelling story. Sara Newens and Mina T. Son, as co directors on the project, do an outstanding job of showing the audience the strength, determination, and resilience that it takes to compete at such a high level even within a sport that most people either don't take seriously or know nothing about. It was very interesting to see the contrasting styles and personalities between Ariel and Lily as they work individually, together, and in opposition although the real emotional connections are made when we get to see what they are like away from the arenas and gymnasiums they spend so much time in.

The girls, and Michael as well, are very typical teenagers in just about every way, although it's easy to see what sets them apart as they each possess that singular focus and drive that is essential to competing at the levels they are at. The film makers give the audience an inside look at training sessions that are just as grueling as what you might see from a Russell Wilson or a LeBron James yet some of the most compelling moments are the ones we see after the paddles have been put away. The directors are very respectful of the athletes at their most vulnerable times yet they are also so good at drawing out emotional moments and conversations at just the right time.

The Verdict:
It is said that a film can be made or broken in the editing room and I feel like that is where this film really excels and becomes a truly great documentary film. Top Spin, with its unorthodox subject matter, will surprise you by how entertaining it is and you will have a hard time not falling in love with three young athletes who are each out to conquer the world...as long as they also get their homework done on time.


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