For British-born director Po Chih Leong, Ping Pong (1986) represents an examination of his own Chinese background. The film is filled with quirky scenarios and surreal imagery depicting the East-West cultural clash.
The idea for Ping Pong probably developed during the filming of Leong's 1984 Hong Kong feature Banana Cop (Ying-Lun Pipa). Shot in London's Chinatown, the film tells the story of a British-Chinese policeman who returns to Hong Kong and comes up against cultural barriers. This reflected Leong's own experience of working as a foreigner in the Hong Kong film industry
The death of Sam Wong (K.C. Leong) provides the dramatic pulse of Ping Pong. Elaine Choi (Lucy Sheen), a law clerk, must confront her cultural background when dealing with the members of the dead man's family. As a British-Chinese she is forced to reach out to Chinese culture and accept Chinese mysticism. She bounces between the family members (like a ping pong ball), but her biggest adversary seems to be Wong's youngest son Mike (David Yip). In many ways, Mike is an archetype of a young Chinese man growing up in Britain, struggling to define his identity and in the process turning his back on traditional Chinese culture. By the end of the film, however, both Elaine and Mike come to terms with their cultural roots.
The film merges a suspenseful narrative with surreal images of Chinese mysticism. These cleverly edited scenes allow the viewer to understand what Elaine is experiencing when forced to face her cultural past. When Elaine and Mike's mother are together in a Church, Eastern and Western cultures are combined as they light Chinese incense in remembrance and as a gift to the spirits.
Elaine's strong will and determination resembles that of the Chinese woman warrior, an alter-ego she adopts at the end of the film. Leong uses the film's diverse cast of characters to delicately unravel past and present Chinese cultures, shedding light on how early Chinese people arrived in Britain and how growing up in Britain has affected Chinese culture.