Ed. note: The author was a contributor to the film’s post-production Kickstarter campaign.
Homework, parties and university entrance exams comprise quintessential aspects of the American high school experience, but for the three main subjects of “Top Spin,” there are additional pressure-packed considerations. Leaving school early to jam in several hours of workouts and practice sessions. Traveling around the world for athletic competitions. And, most importantly for Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Michael Landers, a potential trip to London to participate in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Mina T. Son and Sara Newens’ debut documentary – a project inspired by their 2010 short film of the same name on Hsing – focuses on a sport that receives top billing in countries like China: table tennis, also known as ping pong. In the United States, it’s a different story, with professional players struggling to make ends meet, and no Olympic medalists in the sport to date. None of this matters for Hsing, Zhang and Landers, who have all won senior national championships as teenagers and simply want to represent their country in international competition. “Top Spin” explores a variety of perspectives, such as the sacrifices parents make to support their child-athletes’ dreams; the balance between friendship and rivalry (between training partners Hsing, 16 at the time the film was made, and Zhang, 15); a look into the rigorous grooming system in China (Landers, 17, heads there to train for a couple of months); and the qualification rounds necessary to make it to London. For neophytes, the film is also an opportunity to learn much more about the sport, such as the different types of ball spin generated by a paddle, and the difference between an attacker and a chopper. For those in the know, particularly athletes and non-athletes who spend the majority of their lives competing to make a living, it’s an intimate and familiar look at the sacrifice required to be the best in the world.
“Top Spin” made its world premiere at the DOC NYC Film Festival and also screened at the 2014 North American Teams Championships in National Harbor, Md.
Photos: “Top Spin” world premiere and after-party – DOC NYC
all photos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine
Videos: “Top Spin” trailer and after-party at SPiN – DOC NYC – Nov. 15, 2014
(featuring the U.S. Olympic women’s table tennis team: Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Erica Wu)
trailer courtesy of “Top Spin”; Q&A clip courtesy of DOC NYC; all other videos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine