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'Top Spin': The movie is charming because of the table tennis competitors' intensity

Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens follow three young table tennis players as the subjects attempt to make it to the 2012 Olympics.

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Lily Zhang, the world's highest ranked player in her age group, as seen in 'Top Spin' a film by Sara Newens and Mina T. Son.

Courtesy of First Run Features

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I am probably not the most objective person to be reviewing the table tennis documentary “Top Spin,” since I used to play competitively as a kid. But then again, I was mediocre and this film is about Olympics-bound kids. Still, the rat-a-tat of the paddles hitting those featherlight balls brought back those days to me.

Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens followed three young competitors – two-time US Women’s Champion Ariel Hsing; Lily Zhang, another phenom; and Michael Landers, at 15, the youngest US men’s champion. Will any or all of them make it to the 2012 London Olympics? Weary as I am of documentaries built around competitions, this one is charming because the three teens, especially the girls, are so radiantly intense about the sport. And yes, you doubters, it is a sport. You’ll learn all about topspins, underspins, and side spins. You’ll also learn about that most dreaded and annoying of table-tennis adversaries, the “chopper.” This is the player who doesn’t do anything except rebound all your shots until you eventually make a mistake. Those guys used to drive me nuts. Glad to know Ariel, Lily, and Michael aren’t too crazy about them, either. Grade: B (This film is not rated.)

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