21 June 2008 | projectcyclops
Engaging, unusual low-key drama.
The King of Ping Pong (Ping Pong Kingen) is a poignant drama about two very different brothers living with their mother in the north of Sweden. Rille (Jerry Johansson) is an overweight teenage outsider with a cynical perspective of the world. He's bullied by the towns teenage hoods and only seems on top of things when attending ping pong at the local community centre, where he's appointed himself steward of the racket cupboard key and tries his best to impress the younger players. His younger brother Eric is, in contrast, an athletic and popular boy who's always a hit with girls and, although protective of his older brother, argues with him and their mother frequently. The boys are not impressed with their mothers new boyfriend Gunnar, who owns the local sporting goods store and is considered to be the town joke, they're much more interested in impressing their father who's yearly visit is approaching as he's given leave from his job on an oil rig. Unfortunately their fathers visit brings disappointment, his half-truths, womanising and alcoholism mires his time with the attention seeking boys. Rille then overhears a conversation between Gunnar and his mother that may bring to light why he and Eric are so different. This sets into motion a series of confrontations between the family members which culminates in a terrible accident after which all might be lost for Rille.
Filmed in the snow-bound frozen north of Sweden, Jens Jonsson's first feature looks stunning and it's thanks to Askild Edvarsen's exceptional widescreen imagery (which won him the World Cinema Jury Prize: Dramatic at Sundance) that King of Ping Pong has such an arresting feel to it. The endless snowy hills could be seen as a metaphor for Rille's future, on the cusp of adulthood he looks out to see an uncertain life ahead of him and finds himself desperately scrambling through the wasteland in a cathartic attempt to save everything from disaster. The young actor Johansson has a tough job in basically carrying the entire film which is seen from his point of view, and he does a tremendous job in making the character seem flawed in his arrogance but also deeply sympathetic, engaging and amusing. The humour comes from the detail and little things - the family house for instance is home to about 20 cats which fill cupboards, shelves and any available surface, young Eric has a knack for casual profanity at unexpected times and the boy's father alternates between goofy comic relief and desperate locked out parent. Much of the films poignancy lies in the talks he has with his sons, the advice he tries to give them and the apologies for the mistakes he's made in life. Rille's love interest is of note also, a slightly geeky girl with a talent for life drawing. She exclusively draws muscle bound guys in suggestive poses, complete with bodily appendages and even treats Rille to a portrait of himself as a hunk, "It's how I see you."
The films ambles along like a casual walk in the snow for much of it's running time, it is in no to hurry to develop things too fast, but rather to let the story tell itself, until the third act which picks up pace and develops an almost Coen Brothers like, manic energy.