FILM REVIEW: Mama Pingpong Social Club 妈妈桌球
A-Mian has been living alone for years. One day, she goes to a pingpong club. To her surprise, she finds all the women there are incredibly energetic. Suddenly, an accident changes A-Mian life. She probably finds a way to make her daughter stay with her forever. This time she is determined to obtain everlasting happiness.
Director: Shiang-An Chuang
Cast: Wang Chuan, Yu Chen
Review by Leon Lau
Mama PingPong Social Club (2018) smartly side steps the conventions of the genre and injects its story of motherhood with a surprising amount of bite with one secret ingredient. Horror.
The coming of age genre has seen a resurgence in popularity in the past decade. Whether it is told from the child’s perspective like in Ladybird (2017), or from the parents’ point of view ala Boyhood (2014), the genre has been covered extensively. And here, the story starts out in a deceptively straightforward manner.
A-Mian (Wang Chuan ) is a lonely mother living alone at home, while her daughter is out pursuing her dream of becoming a dancer. The film opens with her isolation. A-Mian is framed alone in her bed, while the rest of the neighbouring old folks gather outside to do their morning exercise. The house she lives in is shown to us in quick, wide, empty shots as the repetitive sound of a fan clicking back and forth permeates the opening.
All this focus on the mundane puts us into A-Mian’s headspace in just a few minutes. It’s an effective ruse that lulls us into a false sense of safety until the middle act turn. If you have seen the trailer for Mama PingPong Social Club, then unfortunately the twist might already be spoiled as it is featured prominently in the film’s marketing. However if you can go into this short blind, you absolutely should.
The sense of journey and discovery that director Shiang-An Chuang packs into this 26 minute short is incredible. With an efficient sense of pacing and story structure, the film moves quickly and with confidence. More importantly, it remembers to ground its more bizarre horror elements by focusing on the distance in A-Mian’s relationship with her daughter.
Wang Chuan is fantastic as the mother, embodying both the proud and headstrong matriarchal role, as well as the more vulnerable side of a parent who does not want to be away from her children. It’s a wonderfully physical performance where more is conveyed by subtle actions than words, and her struggle to connect with her daughter hits the hardest in the emotionally explosive ending. Up until this point, most of the film has been framed in wide shots, which makes the use of rare close ups on Wang Chuan extremely powerful in the third act.
This is a bizarre, heartbreaking tale about seeing your children grow up, and facing the reality of them leaving the nest. If you can handle tonal shifts and aren’t too squeamish about blood, give this one a shot.
About Kaohsiung Shorts
高雄拍 (Kaohsiung Shorts) aims to make Kaohsiung the Taiwanese short film base, to discover and showcase new short films that break the norms, boundaries and stereotypes through the use of media. Started in 2012 by the Kaohsiung Film Archive, Kaohsiung Shorts is a short film grant that aims to encourage film talents to be based in Kaohsiung and be inspired by the city. Films created under this programme will be having their Taiwan premiere during the Kaohsiung International Film Festival. Since 2015, short films created under the Kaohsiung Shorts have been showcased in other countries such as Hong Kong, France, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.