TOP SPIN follows the lives of Ariel Hsing, Michael Landers, and Lily Zhang – three teenagers competing their way through the world of competitive table tennis. These young athletes face unusual challenges coming of age in a niche sport, and reveal the sacrifice and passion it takes to pursue Olympic-sized dreams.
’Top Spin’ grips, exhilarates and breaks hearts like the 1994 film ‘Hoop Dreams.’
Inside a cramped gym tucked behind a California strip mall, the clacking sounds of hollow plastic balls whirling at 80 mph are punctuated by exclamations of victory and bitter cries of defeat. Welcome to the hidden world of competitive table tennis. In 2009, Michael Landers became the youngest ever U.S. Men’s Singles Champion at 15 years old. A year later, Ariel Hsing achieved the same feat when she was crowned Women’s Singles Champion, also at 15. High school sophomore Lily Zhang holds the highest world ranking for her age group and is closing in on Ariel’s title. In a sport with no professional league and where national champions earn less than “beer pong” champions, these fiercely driven teenagers remain committed to their passion. With devoted parents by their side, they have traded in normal teenage life for a chance to represent their country on the world’s biggest athletic stage: the Olympics.
Juxtaposing the pitfalls of adolescence with the highs of elite sports, Top Spin reveals how Ariel, Michael, and Lily balance rivalry, teenage awkwardness, and friendships, as every match impacts their fledgling confidence. Regularly juggling six-hour training sessions, overseas tournaments, and schoolwork, they inevitably sacrifice the typical teenage rites of passage. As family expectations mount and the pressure to win intensifies, their extreme quest for victory clashes against their struggle to prove themselves to the world: as young adults and as athletes. An inside look at a niche sport, Top Spin turns one of America’s favorite pastimes on its head and reveals a coming-of-age story where success and failure come down to mere millimeters.
Three ping-pong virtuosi provide textbook examples of intensity and concentration…
The film is remarkable for representing the diversity of people of Chinese heritage, from the Hsing and Zhang families to others of the diaspora to the Chinese National Olympic team. How refreshing it is to see the competitive nature of Chinese people without it being framed as threatening or essentially antagonistic.