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Review: Chang can (but won’t) dunk in ‘Chang Can Dunk’

in a recent interview with GQHong Kong star Donnie Yen pointed out that Caine, his character in the upcoming action blockbuster “John Wick: Chapter 4,” had originally been given a more common Chinese name. The choice upset Yen, who successfully lobbied to change the character’s name. “Why does he always have to be called Shang or Chang?” he said he in the interview. “Why do you have to be so generic?”

Oh! Having made peace with my own boring and widely used monosyllabic last name years ago, I read that story with no small amount of amusement. And I thought about it more than once during “Chang Can Dunk,” a likable and completely generic Disney+ movie about a 5-foot-8 Chinese-American teenager who tries to do something that high school rivals, YouTube commenters and basic physiology rudely suggest. Can not.

Here, of course, genericism serves a greater purpose. Recycling, long a favorite Hollywood pursuit, has also become its preferred shortcut to telling seemingly more inclusive stories. At last, by logic, even long-marginalized Asian-American audiences can see a version of themselves in the kind of mainstream, inspirational sports drama they’ve long been denied. Progress, right?

Something like. As boring as it can be to see old stories repackaged in new colors, the practice can and does pay some culturally enlightening dividends. Jingyi Shao’s script (which he also directed, quite deftly) can tend to be bland and overly expository, but 16-year-old Chang (Bloom Li) is, for the most part, refreshingly hard to pigeonhole. He is intelligent and well rounded, athletically and musically; he can be silly, clumsy, charming, arrogant, shy, and outspoken. No one calls it a racist slur (or really intends to call it anything other than Chang, his last name turned nickname for him), but stereotypical assumptions about Asian masculinity are in the very air he breathes.

Those assumptions are partly what leads him to make a reckless bet with his nemesis, basketball star Matt (Chase Liefeld): By homecoming week, Chang promises, he’ll be able to dunk in front of the whole school. Backing him to succeed are Kristy (Zoe Renee), a fellow band drummer turned fleeting love interest, and Deandre (Dexter Darden), a “two-time Estonian League MVP” who became a clerk at a Verizon store and becomes Chang’s trainer. They follow crazy training regimens and upbeat training montages: Chang doesn’t have to do like Michael B. Jordan in “Creed III” and drag a plane, though, over time, he becomes a weight bench, box jump, protein – jerk swallowing monster.

With a little help from his tech-savvy best friend, Bo (Ben Wang), he also becomes a social media star, turning an underdog story into a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of viral fame and an insatiable ego. Chang’s downward spiral, though paved with brief guest appearances from a few NBA and ESPN stars, is a bit heavy-handed, and while redemption is predictable on the cards, it comes by way of an oddly unsatisfying (in every way) final shot. . Until then, at least, the actors keep things lively: Renee, Wang, and especially Darden make an excellent supporting team, and Li is a confident enough actor not to make Chang an overly likable lead.

The film’s most awkwardly dramatized scenes, in which Chang clashes with his hard-working single mother (Mardy Ma), are also the most compelling, rooted in Chang’s frustration that he can’t seem to say or do anything without earning her embarrassment. reflective. and Judgment Like many Asian-American child-parent duos, Chang and her mother find themselves straddling not only a generation gap but also a cultural chasm, one that bequeathed Ma with the best and funniest line in history. film: “Why wet? what can you do With this dunking thing?!”

Really. But utility isn’t everything, and “Chang Can Dunk” understands that the pursuit of fun and seemingly frivolous goals can be meaningful in itself, especially when undertaken with the loving support of friends and family. He also knows there’s a time to shine and a time to back down, though the truest lesson from him is one some of us have taken to heart for a long time: be the Chang you want to see in the world.

“Chang Can Nail”

Classification: PG, for language and some thematic elements

Execution time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Streaming on Disney+