綠草地
Mongolian Ping Pong (2005)


Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 10/30/2006
Summary: before the priceless jade, came the glowing pearl...

bilike is a young boy, his family live the nomadic life of horsemen on the vast grasslands of the mongolian steppes. one day, bilike is fetching water for his father, when a strange object floats down the river towards him: it's a ping pong ball. to bilike, who's only exposure to life beyond the steppes is the sound that crackles out of a static riddled television, it is an object of deep mystery. bilike and his two friends, dawa and erguotou, are hypnotised by this strange object, with it's perfect round form and its ability to float. after concluding that they have no idea what it is, bilike takes the ball to his grandmother; she promptly declares it to be a treasure of the river spirits, "a glowing pearl" that will bring fortune to whoever finds it.

despite this proclaimation, the boys still have their doubts and travel to a temple, only to find the lamas are just as baffled by the ball. it is only when the boys begin to hassle a travelling film projectionist, that they are told that it's a ping pong ball; although they stil have no idea what one of these is. it is only after they hear (they only ever see static) a game of ping pong on the television, which talks of "the national ball", that they realise what they have. the boys are convinced that they are in possession of a national treasure! it is their duty to travel to beijing, in order to return this object of national pride...

the name ning hao seems to have sprung to the forefront of asian cinema over the last few months. his film 'crazY stone', produced by andy lau's 'focus : first cuts' project, has been a huge critical and commercial success in china. it's a grimy, yet slick, black comedy about theives who plan to steal a priceless jade and the security guard, who is out to thwart them. Very good it is too...

'crazY stone' is ning's third film, after 'incense' and 'mongolian ping pong', neither of which gained cinematic releases in china. still, andy lau happened to see mongolian ping pong at last year's hong kong - asia film financing forum and was suitably impressed. so much so that he went about contacting ning; the result of this initial contact was their collaboration in the production of crazY stone.

in ning's own words, "crazY stone is a distorted mirror, the characters are real but enlarged and exaggerated", on the other hand, 'mongolian ping pong' "is a mirror, a true reflection of mongolian people". now, i'm no expert on mongolia, my only exposure to it has been the excellent 'the tale of the Weeping camel' and the, suprisingly good, documetary 'the Wild horses of mongolia with Julia roberts'. if you've seen the latter, then you'll be familiar with the nomadic communities of horsemen, who roam the grasslands of the mongolian steppes, living in gers (a tent built around a wooden latice). 'mongolian ping pong' focusses on three young boys who live in such a community; bilike, erguotou and dawa.

now, as ning's comments suggest, this is a very different film to 'crazy stone'. the fast paced, exaggerated comedy of a modern, industrial chongqing, along with the multiple camera angles, slick editing and narrative jiggery-pokery are absent; instead, a meandering comic drama, lingering wide shots, which serve to emphasis the panoramic magnitude of the mongolian steppes, naturalistic performances (from a superb cast of non-actors) and a distinct lack of close-ups achieve an almost documentary quality. the "true reflection" that ning speaks of...

this is a truely charming film, as well as providing a rare view of a country and people whose lives have changed little since genghis khan roamed this land, it also paints a very real portrait of the independence that children, who are raised in this environment, exhibit. something which isn't always appreciated by their parents, but distills a rich personality into our three central characters. as a result, we are treated to three central characters, who are knowingly stealing their parent's alcohol one minute and innocently transfixed by a ping pong ball the next.

mongolian ping pong is a funny film, which is never condescending to its protagonists and fills you with affection for the people and environment that it depicts. You can almost allow it to wash over you, whilst you stare off into the beautiful distance. there's no great drama, but it's hard not to find yourself engaged by the world that ning presents to you; i look forward to his next project (another project for 'focus : first cuts') and i shall be seeking out his debut, 'incense', in the meantime...

good stuff.