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Ping Pong (1986)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Chinatown, London. Sam Wong, the elderly father of a wealthy family, is found mysteriously dead in a telephone booth. He leaves behind a grieving elderly widow tied to traditional Chinese ways and culture, a son, Mike, who is married to an Englishwoman, a rebellious younger son and one daughter. Mike fails to show up at the funeral and the reading of the will at the family restaurant.

British-born Chinese lawyer Elaine Choi is hired to read the will and to ensure that Sam's last wishes are carried out. As she reads, it is apparent that the family is not interested. She realises that it will be a difficult task to get the family members to fulfil their duties. She becomes embroiled in a detective hunt for a mysterious Sarah Lee named in the will but whom nobody seems to know.

Mr. Chen, Sam's wily old friend, stands to inherit the farm but first he must sign the willwhich he is reluctant to do. Eventually Elaine tracks him down. Chen explains that the two men arrived in England after jumping ship in Liverpool in 1936. After starting a laundry service for the army, Wong received his citizenship, but Chen always assumed that he himself did not and has been living like a hermit ever since.

Choi visits each of the family members to get them to sign the will and also to investigate the mysterious circumstances of Sam's death, in particular the whereabouts of Sarah Lee. The English wife of Wong's eldest son explains how she is left out of family matters, while Wong's daughter and her husband are angry that all they have been left by ther father is the family store. The husband, a heavy gambler, teaches his sons Chinese principles while himself ignoring the third one himself - to respect your elders. The children finally give in and sign the will.

One key condition of the will is that someone from the family must accompany Sam's ashes to his home village in China. The matriarch decides to go but wants younger son Mike to follow her. Mike runs a successful restaurant and has all but turned his back on Chinese custom. He doesn't want to go and is determined to build a multiplex restaurant on the site of his father's old restaurant in Chinatown. But as Mike reminisces about his past, he and Elaine begin to fall in love.

Mike learns from Elaine that his mother has decided to return alone with the ashes. He catches her before she leaves. They reconcile thanks to Elaine, who acts as a ping pong ball carrying messages back and forth. Mike decides to follow his mother to China. Elaine waits for his return. At Sam's cremation the identity of Sarah Lee is revealed when she arrives to pay her last respects; she is an Englishwoman and Wong's secret mistress. Elaine discovers that Sam's death in a phone booth was not sinister. His last call was to relatives in China telling them that his wife and younger son would come and visit.

Elaine and Mike are reunited on the farm inherited by Chen. Mike has brought back a gift from China. It is the costume of a female warrior depicted in Chinese folklore. Wearing the costume, Elaine is finally reintegrated into Chinese culture and custom.