After perfecting his craft in the world of shorts and episodic television, director Jingyi Shao transitions into features with his debut, Chang Can Dunk from Disney +. The director also pens the screenplay for the film, which follows Chang (Bloom Li), a 16-year-old Asian American high school student in the marching band with a love of basketball. After a roast session and some borderline bullying, he bets the school basketball star and former best friend Matt (Chase Liefeld) that he can dunk by Homecoming.
The bet leads the 5′ 8″ Chang on a quest with former basketball prodigy Deandre (Dexter Darden) to find the hops he needs to dunk and make Matt eat crow. Chang also has aspirations in order to impress his crush, Kristy (Zoe Renee), and finally gain the attention and respect of his high school peers. But before he can rise up and genuinely throw one down, he’ll have to reexamine everything he knows about himself, his friendships, and his family.
Disney and sports-themed movies go together burgers and fries, so naturally, Jingyi Shao follows a familiar template. We have the training montages, the supportive best friend, the victory, and of course, the ego trip. While the film has the cliches Bloom Li as our lead, sells the material, and we want to root for him. One of the things I want to commend the script for is that during the training sequence, we avoid muscle memory, aka the Miyagi method. There’s also a twist in the film’s third act involving Matt that speaks volumes on privilege and male toxicity.
I commend the director for setting up the bet and pushing Matt into the background. We already know that Matt is a popular bully, so there is no need for numerous sequences where he embarrasses Chang. The supporting cast in the film quickly finds their niche in the roles while Dexter Darden and Zoe Renee both stand out. Mardy Ma has some shining moments as good as Chang’s mother, who has communication issues with her son.
Like the many made-for-television Disney sports movies that filled the nineties, I doubt I will ever revisit this one. Nevertheless, Jingyi Shao is a filmmaker to watch, and I look forward to his next film.
Final Grade: B
Chang Can Dunk is available to stream on Disney + today.
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