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Film review: 'Pingpong' charming but long

Published: Friday, Sept. 15 2006 12:00 a.m. MDT

MONGOLIAN PINGPONG — ** 1/2 — Hurichabilike, Dawa; with English subtitles (Asian dialects); not rated, probable PG (violence, profanity, vulgarity).

There's deliberate, there's leisurely, there's slow — and then there's the pace at which "Mongolian Pingpong" is played. The film, not the sport.

That's not meant to suggest that this Mongolian comedy-drama doesn't have its charms. But it's perhaps a bit too sluggish or low-key for its own good. At times it practically dawdles.

Some judicious pruning could have turned this modestly entertaining, 101-minute film into a considerably better, 80- or 90-minute one.

Despite its title, the film is not really about the paddle-and-ball sport. It's about a young Mongolian villager named Bilike (newcomer Hurichabilike) who finds a

pingpong ball floating downstream in a nearby river. Never having seen such a thing before, the boy thinks his find is a gift from the gods and believes that it will bring good luck to his impoverished village.

However, his fellow villagers believe otherwise — they think the ball is a curse or that it's some sort of pest-control device. So, with help from his best friend (Dawa), Bilike is determined to find out what he can about this "glowing pearl."

It's a simple premise, and first-time screenwriter/director Hao Ning employs mostly amateurs in his cast (which explains why most of the characters go by their real names). As you might expect, this leads to some stiff performances, but the fresh-faced youngsters are energetic and appealing.

Also, the scenery is breathtaking — cinematographer Jie Du and his camera crews have captured the virtually untouched Mongolian surroundings in all their glory.

"Mongolian Pingpong" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for some violence (mostly roughhousing and bullying), scattered use of profanity, and a crude gag involving bodily functions. Running time: 101 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com