Movie review: ‘Mongolian Ping Pong'

3 stars (out of four)

"Mongolian Ping Pong," a tender, visually stunning comedy-drama set on the steppes of Inner Mongolia, has a story that, in synopsis, sounds almost absurd. Writer-director Ning Hao's film is about three little boys--Bilike (Hurichabilike), Dawa (Dawa) and Erguotou (Geliban)--who live on the vast Mongolian grasslands in nomad tents called yurts. When Bilike finds an unfamiliar object, a ping-pong ball, floating in a creek, the three pals become obsessed with it.

Is it a pearl from heaven, as Bilike's grandmother (Dugema) says? Is it the "national ball of China," as they see and hear on the TV set won by Bilike's dad (Yidexinnaribu)? Or is it just a nuisance, as Bilike's mother (Badema) seems to think? Accepting the word on TV, the boys decide to take the "national ball" to the capital of China, Beijing, which they imagine is just over a few hills on the local Gobi Desert.

Darkness soon descends on them--but not for long. Ning is less concerned with destructive fate than with renewal and life's possibilities. Later on, the last shot of Bilike's face, with a special sound filling the air around him, is both funny and beautiful.

Ning films the Mongolian steppe in great, austere long shots, which tend to dwarf all the characters, but when the children embark on their quest, on their small Mongolian horses and motor scooter, they have a curious valor. They're heroes in an absurd world. Wistful, humorous and majestically pictorial, "Mongolian Ping Pong" is an off-trail film full of offtbeat delights.


'Mongolian Ping Pong'

Directed by Ning Hao; written by Ning, Xing Aina, Gao Jianguo; photographed by Du Jie; edited by Jiang Yong; music by Wuhe; produced by Lu Bin, He Bu. In Mongolian, with English subtitles. A First Run Features release; opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque. Running time: 1:42. No MPAA rating. Family. Parents cautioned for some mild violence.

Bilike - Hurichabilike

Dawa - Dawa

Erguotou - Geliban

Bilike's father - Yidexinnaribu

Bilike's mother - Badema

Bilike's sister - Wurina

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