On a not so pleasant evening Monday 20th of March nearly forty years after Ping Pong the British feature film was released, directed by Po Ch'ih Leong . I headed to the Ciné Lumière in South london for a rare cinematic screening of an almost forgotten British film.
It was weird (in a nice way) to see the film on screen in a cinema as intended. It was only ever given a four week run in the Westend and then just one showing on TV, Channel 4 and that was it. It went to the Edinburgh film and TV festival where it received a warm reception but was dismissed by the likes of the Telegraph and Times. It opened the Hong Kong Film festival in 1986 and was one of the films played on Cathy Pacific airlines. It faired slightly better in the US and it was part of a controversial decision at the Venice Film festival where it split the jury as it was not put into the competition as another British film was entered even though it broken one of the competition rules by having been screened outside of the country of origin prior to the festival. Nevertheless in Venice Ping Pong was screened to a packed audience in a massive cinema the biggest I have ever seen and last on the bill after Blue Velvet. We received a standing ovation. Something that I certainly was not expecting. Neither were the powers that be (I don't think). Back in Blightie the film was screened at the Metro Cinema in Rupert Street and did I think reasonably ok. But there was no big push, no real PR so the four week run came and went. I don't think that there was any real effort to show the film outside of London, say in Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Swansea or Cardiff. So the film literally died. In the UK.
Back then in the 1980s as serious actor you weren't supposed to do Film or TV first stage was the thing. (I did everything backwards and I in some ways I still seem to be doing that to this day.)
Ping Pong was film that in some senses should have progressed my career but it didn't (that's show business) but it should have at least opened more doors than it did. A very good friend and actor who happens to be white very early one pointed out to me that had this been a white actress being cast in a lead role as their first job they would have been catapulted to the top with offers of TV roles, Westend work and other stage work (how successful they might be is another question) the opportunities would have initially flowed in, but they didn't. Again that's showbiz innit.
But it's interesting that this film is now gaining the traction and interest it should have received nearly forty years ago. And it's still very relevant today. A film ahead of its time. I'm just glad that finally in some small way this film might be getting more coverage in the UK for a new generation. In spite of its age, remarkably it stands up very well. As Po Ch'ih said to me after the post screening Q&A we should be proud of our work and I am and always will be.
#representationmatters it always has and always will