Following three teenage American table-tennis players as they rigorously train and try to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the documentary “Top Spin” grips, exhilarates and breaks hearts like the 1994 film “Hoop Dreams.”
Unlike basketball, table tennis holds few prospects for career, celebrity or monetary reward. These young players sacrifice their formative years for little more than potential bragging rights. Recall Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz as portrayed by Channing Tatum in the beginning of “Foxcatcher,” collecting meager appearance fees and eating instant noodles just to get by.
The subjects in “Top Spin” — Ariel Hsing, Michael Landers and Lily Zhang — feel pressure to achieve athletically and academically, even as they curtail schooling to accommodate training regimens. Hsing’s father, Michael, gives up his job so he can coach her full time. Could failure possibly be an option?
Table tennis is a sport in which Americans do not dominate. A top player over here like Landers can be regarded as an amateur by a Chinese coach. Even if these players advanced in the States, they face much stiffer competition in the world arena. And despite all the blood, sweat and tears, there can be only one winner.
Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens demonstrate the players’ athletic prowess and hard work but also show them to be great kids. You just might become a fan.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 21 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Laemmle’s NoHo 7, North Hollywood; Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle’s Claremont 5.