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The King of Ping Pong [Ping-pongkingen] (Review)

The King of Ping Pong [Ping-pongkingen] (Review)

Sundance winner is a cold drama. Ironic, no?
Mar 5, 2009
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The King of Ping Pong [Ping-pongkingen] (Review), reviewed by Stephanie Lyall on 2009-03-05T08:41:36+00:00 rating 3.5 out of5

Scandinavian films aren’t exactly known to portray the world from a joyful, lighthearted perspective. Maybe it’s something to do with the short and grey winter days, or the hardworking social welfare systems that end up keeping everybody sort of ‘same-same’. Denmark and Sweden usually rank highly in lists of suicide rates, Finland hosted it’s latest in a spate of school shootings a few months ago and semi-Scandi Iceland is in economic turmoil.

trans The King of Ping Pong [Ping pongkingen] (Review)

Swedish film The King of Ping Pong is no exception to this trend in Scandinavian film making. The Sundance 2008 winner for cinematography is indeed beautiful, but in a bleak way. The spectacular long shots of northern Sweden’s ice and snow covered terrain, and scenes of long walks home on darkened days highlight the loneliness of central character, teenager Rille (an intriguing Jerry Johansson). The desolate, almost foreboding landscape mirrors Rille’s emotions, while the repetitive use of whites, greys, greens and blues depress the mood even more.

pingpongkingen1 245x187 custom The King of Ping Pong [Ping pongkingen] (Review)

Rille is older than the other kids in his isolated area, including his brother Erik, but holds little social power over them except for when it comes to ping pong. Rille is better than the rest, holds the coveted key to the racket cupboard and rules the roost when organising tournaments at the local community centre. But while ping pong may be the only area in which he commands any sort of power or respect, he maintains that it is “the last remaining egalitarian sport”. With a virtually absent father, Rille and his brother are more or less all that each other have, apart from their well-meaning but struggling mother who is romantically involved with the laughing stock of the town, sport store owner Gunnar.

The re-introduction of their father and his fast-rotating lady friends shakes up their world in different ways, with Erik thriving on the contact and Rille retreating away. As Rille repeatedly explains, the differences between he and his brother couldn’t be greater – Erik is small while Rille is big; Erik is impulsive while Rille is more deliberative, and as even more differences are revealed, their relationship shatters.

It’s too much for Rille, and the constant victimisation he is subject to – both direct and indirect – pushes him over the edge. It is here that the film dives into it’s darkest moments, and it becomes difficult to see a happy ending emerge from the coldness and desperation that hangs both literally and figuratively over the film and its characters.

But just like all is not lost for the seemingly depressing and hopeless Scandinavian countries (which are actually lovely places*) neither is it for Rille, although a perfect, summed-up Hollywood ending is nowhere to be found in this thought-provoking piece of cinema.


Don’t expect anything fast-paced or flashy from this Swedish drama – just settle yourself in for a meandering, aesthetically and emotionally intriguing film that touches upon issues of family, loneliness and hierarchy through an adolescents eyes, but in a way much deeper than any child could fathom.

*The author wishes to note that she has lived in Scandinavia and that it really is a beautiful, happy place (except for maybe in the winter when it gets dark early and the sun hides behind clouds for weeks on end)

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