Ping Pong the Movie is really worth seeing. Specially brought back to the Hyde Park Cinema by OWLS (Older Wiser Local Seniors), as part of the Love Arts Festival, it’s a really well put together documentary about a world championship table tennis tournament for seniors that took place earlier this year in Inner Mongolia. We follow 8 people from the US, UK, Germany, Sweden and China as they make their preparations to get there, and then the tensions of the actual competition. I’d somehow expected a ‘feelgood’ type movie, with a positive take on age, and a glossing over of the tougher aspects of aging, but it wasn’t at all like that. It WAS a feelgood movie, but what I loved was that you got to see the struggles too – the fight with illness and increasing mobility problems. One of the characters has increasing ill health through the tournament, and afterwards has to fight for his life in hospital. By the time the film was completed he’d been successful, but the touch and go nature of his fight put the whole thing, (and for the viewer our own lives), in perspective.
It’s great the way each of the characters is so individual. It contradicts that basic element of ageism that people get less interesting and distinct as they get older. Some of the players in the film are deeply competitive, some philosophical and laid back, some trained hard down at the gym, some didn’t bother. (My favourite was the 85 year old Chinese man whose training seemed to consist of having a beer, a fag and a laugh with his mates, much to the dismay of his obviously doting daughter). The sense of camaraderie and love these people have for each other is really beautiful to see – and the seriousness with which they try to beat each other, and the anguish when they lose, only adds to that. Really a good watch – hope it gets to your TV soon, or comes back around – or see the Ping Pong website for how to get hold of a copy.
One of the stars, Les D’Arcy from Wakefield was present at the screening at the Hyde Park, along with his Olympic torch. He gave a talk before the start, and read some of his inspirational poems.