Written by: Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant
Directed by: Robert Ben Garant
Starring: Dan Fogler, George Lopez, Christopher Walken, James Hong, Maggie Q
Subject: Kung fu movies
MASTER WONG: Ping Pong is not the Macarena. It takes patience. She is like a fine, well-aged prostitute… it takes years to learn her tricks. She is cruel, laughs at you when you are naked, but you keep coming back for more, and more! Why? Because she is the only prostitute I can afford.
In this magazine I have advocated for more than one critically unacclaimed movie. From DOA to Underworld, it’s clear that maybe I don’t have the most high-brow taste in genre flicks. I don’t love 2001, can’t really stand Star Trek and I’ve never (gasp) read the Game of Thrones books. My credentials aren’t that solid.
But forget all that, because Balls of Fury is totally awesome.
And I don’t mean so bad it’s good, or so bad it’s bad it’s good. But rather that it’s just straight out freakin’ spectacular.
You heard me.
Balls of Fury (2007) is the story of Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) who, as a 12-year-old, makes it to the table tennis final of the 1988 Olympics. He loses on the first point (by knocking himself out chasing a smash) and his father, who bet on the game, loses his life. Like all good kung fu/table tennis prodigies Randy swears never to play competition table tennis again.
Years later, Randy is doing table tennis shows at a casino in Reno, playing to a bored audience more intent on eating their buffet meals than watching a guy in a blindfold hitting five ping pong balls. Unappreciated by the crowd, Randy starts bouncing the ball off the head of some poor chump going back to the buffet. The poor guy starts complaining (I just want some more cheese and mac) and then crying before having a heart attack. Randy gets fired.
It’s all going well so far.
After being fired Randy speaks to his assistant (a 60 year-old woman dressed up in feathers):
RANDY: Thank you Bethany
SARAH: My name’s Sarah
SARAH: You’ve called me that name for the last five years… but that’s fine
From there we are introduced to FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez). Though Randy is worried that he’s in trouble for almost killing the audience member Rodriguez tells him:
That’s not why I’m here. Actually I thought that was part of the show. Until the paramedics showed up I was laughing my ass off.
Rodriguez needs Randy’s unique skills to get him to an Enter the Dragon-style ping pong tournament held by the generally nefarious Feng (Christopher Walken), the details of whose criminal enterprise are irrelevant. Feng is, of course, the man responsible for the death of Randy’s father.
Randy trains with Feng’s old master, the blind Master Wong (James Hong), falls in love with Wong’s niece (the super super super-hot Maggie Q) and gets into the tournament after defeating the fiercely-named Dragon (a cute ten year old girl with pigtails and a purportedly unreturnable serve).
At the tournament Randy discovers matches are to the death with losers eliminated by blow dart from the beautiful Mahogany (Aisha Tyler pretending she’s an Amazon). With no way to escape, Randy plays his way through the field to the final against the same man who eliminated him from the 1988 Olympics, the nasty East German Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). A man who’s trash talking knows no depths of shame.
I’m sorry your daddy isn’t here to see you today. I think he would be very proud of you. So proud of you he would probably bet some money on you. I could use the cash. Haha.
After an inspiring speech by Master Wong (“Game not in paddle, game in you”) Randy faces Wolfschtagg confidently only to have him replaced by Maggie in a weird twist that doesn’t make a huge amount of sense but provides the best line of the movie:
I’m trying to sacrifice my life for our love Randy. Stop being such a dick.
Anyway. There’s more table tennis, Randy plays Feng in a strange match where they wear armour that gives electric shocks to the loser of each point and where the ball doesn’t need to be hit on the table (which takes the game outside onto a bridge where Feng ultimately falls to his death because he doesn’t have a backhand). They escape Feng’s island with the FBI and every scene that doesn’t have Maggie Q in it is a total waste.
What is beautiful about Balls of Fury is that it takes a great kung fu movie like Enter the Dragon, which is so iconic as to have become a complete cliché, and with a completely straight face remakes it as a movie about ping pong. There’s no laughing to the camera about how absurd the premise is — which is just one of the ways those awful spoofs Date Movie, Epic Movie, etc. — fail. Just like classics of the genre (Airplane!, Austin Powers) Balls of Fury has a complete plot with likeable heroes and memorable villains and just happens to have an absurd premise.
At the same time the movie doesn’t take itself so seriously that all humor is lost. The blind Master Wong varies between being amazingly perceptive and hopelessly clumsy; FBI Agent Ernie’s secret mission with Randy is expected to fail and is only a backup plan to more traditional methods. I particularly liked this last point — haven’t you ever wondered why engaging Bruce Lee to fight in a to-the-death tournament was considered a better option than just storming and searching the island?
So all the necessary clichés are played out but each one has a humorous twist without being so ridiculous that it makes the movie into ‘only’ a spoof.
Please watch (or rewatch) Balls of Fury, you most likely won’t entirely regret it — you may even love it as I do.