Chang Can Dunk (Sports, Drama) (2023)
Director: Jingyi Shao
Writer: Jingyi Shao
Stars: Bloom Li, Ben Wang, Zoe Renee, Dexter Darden
An unpopular sophomore in high school makes a bet to dunk a basketball. The urge to succeed is substantial to prove his bully wrong and impress his crush.
Serving as Jingyi Shao’s feature debut, ‘’Chang Can Dunk’’ is a family-friendly underdog sports film exploring intense determination and the urge to overcome the expectations others hold over you. With a script written in 2019, it took several years to produce due to troublesome release schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Production finally began in 2021, filming at the Frank Scott Bunnell High School and Westhill High School in Connecticut. Shao’s film has been produced by Walt Disney Pictures, Hillman Grad Productions and Makeready while distributed by Disney+.
Having struggled throughout his school career, Chang (Bloom Li) decides to improve this year with a new appearance and increased confidence. However, it’s not that easy, and soon after being introduced to his crush-to-be Kristy (Zoe Renee), he’s dared to a dunk by high-school bully Matt (Chase Liefeld), so he seeks out a former player, now social media influencer in Deandre (Dexter Darden) to train him, hoping to prove his doubters wrong and impress his love interest.
Uplifting and to be an example for those of high-school age and younger, Shao’s ‘’Chang Can Dunk’’ forms a coming-of-age tale centring around a young Asian-American named Chang. Facing bullying, being desperately smitten and aiming to achieve personal goals, the film contains a perspective most regular students Chang’s age endure.
Much like any coming-of-age high school movie, there’s a drama narrative around Chang and his band-geek friend Bo (Ben Wang) that involves a new romantic interest, bullying and many other hallmarks of such a project. Thus, it’s imperative for Disney’s ‘’Chang Can Dunk’’ to distinguish itself from the crowd, just like Chang himself. As is expected, it’s family-friendly and maybe apart from themes of bullying, and nothing is withholding a younger audience from enjoying such a film parting with some positive and even some hard-nosed meaning and messaging.
Whereas narratively, Shao’s film seems ultimately generic, it does so steadily with structurally sound narrative progression despite an overall standardness, Darden’s inclusion and Li’s Chang pushing to make dreams reality, even if those dreams seem minor to someone not as engaged with basketball, it is perhaps the best part of the film. At the same time showing, while there’s the whole ‘’Get the girl’’ angle, our protagonist never really has to overcome something to be in that relationship, Renee’s Kristy is in contact with the bully in Liefeld’s Matt, but it is abundantly clear she’s never interested continually rooting for Chang, even if that could be due to a shallow part in the script it works looking at it differently too. Mostly ‘’Chang Can Dunk’’ is overlong, the actual dunk, what would be the conclusion in the eyes of other directors, it continues into Chang’s villain arc, even if short-lived.
Although there are moments within ‘’Chang Can Dunk’’, like a highlight reel during a basketball game, it pales in comparison to recent sports features like ‘’Hustle’’. A film Jingyi Shao was interestingly enough also involved with as an additional crew member.
There’s more than just a dunk.