This over-80s table tennis doc is a cute precursor to this summer’s Games.
Sick of the all-too-familiar seasonal blues tied to the inevitable trouncing of an ill-tempered Scot or 11 lawn-spoiling millionaires? Les D’Arcy is here to help. At 89, the weight-lifting widower from Wakefield is Britain’s best hope for glory at the over-80s Table Tennis Championships in Inner Mongolia.
But he’s up against some stiff competition in the form of former Swedish champion Rune Forsberg, a long-term friend and rival, not to mention Chinese hotshot Sun Lao and Aussie treasure Dorothy Delow who, at 100-years-old, is the tournament’s most senior paddle-wagger.
"Why are you participating in this competition?" a stereotypically chirpy Chinese TV reporter asks Delow in a pre-match interview. "You’re so old!" That may be so, but it doesn’t make our Dot any less a competitor. Indeed, age is merely a formality for the eight veteran athletes going for gold in Hugh Hartford’s life-affirming human-interest doc.
With a hip-busting 703 years between them, there’s no shortage of anecdotes in the film’s extended opening act, during which Hartford travels to five countries across four continents in order to get to know his subjects.
It’s a simple and effective preamble that’s key to establishing our investment in each player while boosting expectation ahead of the main event. If at this stage you’re wondering why a greater chunk of Ping Pong’s slender 80-minute runtime wasn’t dedicated to the tournament itself, the reason soon becomes apparent.
Steely contenders though they are, Les and co are far more engaging away from the match table, when they’re not sucking on inhalers and leaving Zimmer frame scuffmarks on the sports hall floor.
So while the novelty of watching a group of propped-up pensioners lashing forehands at each other soon wears off, at least their inspiring stories of triumph, loss and sacrifice stay with you.
An OAP’s table tennis tourno? This we have to see.
The novelty wears off quickly enough, but the personalities behind the paddles endure.
A cute precursor to this summer’s Games that doesn’t quite warrant a theatrical release.