Yoo Jae Myung and Ji Soo deliver captivating performances in the warmhearted, though pensive Ping Pong Ball (탁구공). A part of JTBC’s Drama Festa anthology banner, this 2018 two-episode special drama might as well be a full-length feature film based on its production and presentation. A wonderful screenplay about the friendship formed between two seemingly different people is brought to life by two excellent performances and its cinematic treatment. All for what is ultimately a moving and fascinating slice of life portrait.
Kim Young Joon (Ji Soo), a university student majoring in philosophy, is trying to get over being rejected by a girl he has feelings for. While out for an intense evening run in the park to clear his head, he collapses by the river and is taken in by Kim Deuk Hwan (Yoo Jae Myung), a homeless man living in a tent under a bridge. At first, Young Joon is suspicious of this mysterious man. Especially when rumors run rampant that Deuk Hwan is a potential suspect in the death of another homeless man in the neighborhood.
But the two slowly form a bond and friendship as they get to know each other and discuss the philosophical aspects of their apparently uneventful and uninspiring lives.
Ping Pong Ball is a story of two seemingly different people on the surface who find they have more in common than they could have ever thought.
During one of their quiet afternoons by the river, Young Joon brings up the idea of inertia. And indeed, despite their age gap, both characters find themselves at the same crossroads in their lives. A point in which they find themselves in stasis, brought about by similar feelings of disappointment, regret and loneliness.
Though neither initially sets out to do so, they eventually help each other take those difficult steps forward in life. At first, merely by their developing friendship. But deeper, a sort of inexplicable and unsaid understanding of each other and their own unique circumstances.
The mystery behind the murder lingers in the background through the two episodes. But Deuk Hwan and Young Joon’s friendship is what takes center stage. And rightly so.
Ping Pong Ball presents itself as a pensive and thoughtful story of this moment in time for both characters; a quite literal slice of Young Joon and Deuk Hwan’s lives where they intersect. And that intersection ultimately has a profound impact on them both.
That long-lasting impression extends to the audience as well. Some might feel the story moves at a slow pace. But most of the two episodes focus on just the two main characters as they talk about their own lives and life in general. The interesting and even sometimes witty discussions they share certainly have a thought-provoking aspect to them. And that thoughtful prompt leads to what is an emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Based on a webcomic by Jo Geum San, Ping Pong Ball‘s story actually moves at the perfect pace for the material. Allowing ample opportunity for both characters’ personal stories to be fully fleshed out while ensuring their developing friendship in the forefront is deservedly paid the same attention as well. And in a natural and realistic way.
The well-written story is then brought to life by two compelling performances.
There’s certainly no questioning Yoo Jae Myung’s experience and talent. And he gives the series that bit of measured gravitas that immediately draws you in to the intriguing character of Kim Deuk Hwan. Much of the series has you questioning his true motives or feelings toward Young Joon. But through that mystery and eventual clarity, Yoo Jae Myung effortlessly guides you along Deuk Hwan’s story.
Meanwhile, Ji Soo again shows why he more than deserves lead roles. He’s already brought to life a diverse group of characters before and after Ping Pong Ball first aired. But as Kim Young Joon, he is given another opportunity to flex his range. Different from many of Ji Soo’s more mainstream roles, both supporting and lead, Young Joon is himself a bit of a mystery. But at the same time also a familiar and relatable young man. Ji Soo also quickly draws you in to Young Joon’s world and has no problem endearing the character to the audience. Especially as he begins to help Deuk Hwan while still trying to sort out his own baggage as well.
Together, Yoo Jae Myung and Ji Soo share an excellent chemistry that allows both characters to play off each other well while still maintaining their individuality. And that chemistry is definitely necessary in ensuring the story itself is successfully told.
Overall, compelling, affecting performances and a contemplative character-driven story leave a lasting impact. Ping Pong Ball is a wonderful, cinematic and memorable presentation.