Mongolian Ping Pong

on April 21, 2006 by Saul Austerlitz
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Mingling the child-centric naturalism of the Iranian New Wave with the eye for native splendor displayed by the Oscar-nominated "The Story of the Weeping Camel," "Mongolian Ping Pong" is more notable for how it looks than what takes place within its frame. Director Ning Hao and cinematographer Du Jie have composed each shot with an eye toward maximal pictorial majesty, the exceptionally crisp images each standing on their own merits as stunning landscapes.

Bilike, Erguotou and Dawa, three young boys with an eye for mischief, find a mysterious white spheroid on one of their perambulations. Convinced it is a "glowing pearl" that belongs to the spirits, they are entranced by its presence. Later, watching a television program about table tennis, they discover their prize is a ping-pong ball, and grow convinced that they must return the "national ball," as the television announcer refers to it, to the capital. Riding their horses and motor scooters into the desert, the boys seek Beijing, a city of which they only have the faintest of notions.

"Mongolian Ping Pong" is less concerned with its plot, which is gossamer-thin and not terribly involving, than with describing the nature of the lives these inhabitants of the remote steppe lead. Far from the modern conveniences of the contemporary metropolis, they must make do with the work of their own hands, and the occasional arrival from the outside world (like the "new American tea," coffee, that a local trader brings). "Mongolian Ping Pong" finds the beauty in their lives, but also subtly notes the instinctive belief that the grass is always greener on the other side: The rural folk take pictures of themselves in front of Beijing backdrops and study TV programs for clues as to what's going on in the outside world, while the fashion magazines they read contain pictures of the steppes, described in their pages as the "perfect life." Everyone, it seems, is looking to taste, if only for a minute, existences completely foreign to their own lives. Starring Hurichabilike, Dawa, Geliban, Yidexinnaribu, Badema, Wurina and Dugema. Directed by Ning Hao. Written by Ning Hao, Xing Aina and Gao Jiangup. Produced by Lu Bin and He Bu. A First Run release. Drama. Chinese-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 102 min

Tags: Starring Hurichabilike, Dawa, Geliban, Yidexinnaribu, Badema, Wurina, Dugema, Directed by Ning Hao, Written by Ning Hao, Xing Aina, Gao Jiangup, Produced by Lu Bin, He Bu, First Run, Drama
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