Both Heartfelt and Informative, ‘Top Spin’ Serves Up a Winner


In the terrific documentary Top Spin, three teen athletes with mad ping-pong skills vie for a spot on the North American Olympic table tennis team.

Filmmakers Mina T. Son and Sara Newens, who also edited, follow Lily Zhang, fifteen, and Ariel Hsing, sixteen, both from California, as well as Long Island’s Michael Landers, seventeen, as they compete their way toward the 2012 Olympic Trials. Only the three best players from the U.S. and Canada will make the Olympic team, so the pressure is enormous. Yet the three contenders remain upbeat (most days), even as they sacrifice friends and fun to the relentless grind of practice and tournament travel.

With sleek and informative onscreen graphics and thrilling slow-motion demonstrations of game technique, Top Spin packs a lot of information into its 80-minute running time, arguing that a great table tennis player is one part boxer, one part chess master.

As Lily, Ariel, and Michael reach the Olympic Trials and their respective destinies, the three react in ways that are typically heartfelt. These “kids” turn out to be wiser than their years — wiser than most of us, probably — as they both win and lose with an enviable grace.

Top Spin

Directed by Sara Newens and Mina T. Son

Distributed by First Run Features

Opens October 23, Cinema Village