Balls of Fury is not a film that is going to get revisited a lot, and with good reason, but it is surprisingly worth a look. Ping Pong Playa was also released in the U.S. recently, and Ping Pong was about 50% of what was covered at the Olympics, so it’s timely to talk about Balls of Fury. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with anyway.
Even if there were no other reason to talk about it, I find it interesting just for the crazy things you can learn by watching just about any old nonsense. In this case, among other things, I learned that newspapers are apparently scared Hasbro will come after them if they use “Ping Pong” without noting that it is a trademarked name.
At any rate, the reason Balls of Fury is worth mentioning is that it knows it’s really bad, but rather than just throw its hands up with that given, it works with it. Now, don’t for a second think I’m going to say this is a good movie, because it’s not. It is, however, a much more enjoyable experience than a lot of things, including not only a host of movies that think they’re good, but also the unending run of spoof garbage that seems to be taking the world by storm. The spoof movies in particular offer a good comparison. They know they’re stupid as well, but they resign themselves to that stupidity, hope a few mindless gags get a laugh, and cash their checks.
Balls of Fury may know it’s stupid, but it sort of tries to do something. It takes stupidity as a frame that it has to work with, rather than as a foregone conclusion about all it can ever be.
The basic theory is that of a very young, ping pong phenom who loses his cool at the Olympics. This results in his father being murdered because of the bet he made on the tournament. A decade or so later, our hero is reduced to a very goofy act in the worst part of Vegas. The FBI pops up and asks him to help out by getting invited to a secret tournament run by Feng, the mystery nogoodnik who is also our father killer.
We run from there into a sort of homage to Enter the Dragon, culminating in a ping pong tournament to death, with a sideline through a blind ping pong master and a love interest. I suppose I could run through a bit more, but why bother?
It’s a horrible plot, with horrible acting, and horrible dialog. It’s horrible in just about every way you can compartmentalize a film, and most ways that you can meld those sections together. But, it’s really kind of watchable. It takes a nice stab at people who are ridiculously serious about things which are beyond the furthest reaches of what should ever be taken seriously. Ping pong to the death is actually only a small step from ping pong to the gold medal if you ask me, and screaming raving insults at one sport is ultimately hard to distinguish from doing it at another.
Besides, it includes the line, “Less Talky Talky, More Ping Pong,” which I’m never going to be able to stop saying.
I can’t give it even a mediocre rating. That’s not for lack of trying either. But, whatever special category I try to think up for it, or excuse I want to give, it’s just really bad. Even Christopher Walken playing Christopher Walken (well, come on, that’s all he plays) playing a very weird ping pong/Chinese culture enthusiast bad guy doesn’t do much to help things. Still, I didn’t turn it off, laughed a few times, and I’m not completely sorry I watched it.