Review by Dan Skip Allen
I'm a big fan of sports films. That being said, the Disney formula of sports films can be a little repetitive. They seem too alike to me. Chang Can Dunk is a little different than the other myriad of Disney feel good sports films. And as a basketball film, it's better than the last one they put out. It has heart, as well as some good messages, making it worthwhile to see.
Chang (Bloom Li) is the son of a single mother. He makes a bet with Matt (Chase Liefeld), the school bully and basketball player, for a framed Kobe Bryant autographed jersey and his Charizard Pokemon card. He likes the new girl in school, Kristy (Zoey Renea). He has a best friend Bo (Ben Wang), with whom he hangs out. Together, they see Deandre (Dexter Darden) on YouTube doing basketball tricks and dunks. They ask him to teach him how to dunk, in exchange for his best friend, who helps him make his YouTube videos better.
The film has a few things that differentiate it from other sports movies. One of them is that it uses animation to show the passage of time. Another fun aspect of the movie is the soundtrack. The film uses the Jimmy Eat World song "The Middle" and other popular songs for entertainment value. A montage is also used for great enjoyment to see how the main character gets from point A to point Z in his training. As the main character is Chinese, he sometimes speaks his family's native tongue to his mother, so the film uses subtitles.
An aspect that I could relate to — as I'm sure a lot of people can — is the fact that the main character's mother Chen (Mardy Ma) is hard on him. Like many Asian families, they want their children to grow up to be doctors and business owners of some kind. Of course, when you are young, you aren't thinking about your future much. You're thinking of having fun while you can and meeting or impressing girls. That is what this kid is trying to do. Whether it works or not remains to be seen.
As this is a Disney+ Original Film, it's pretty mild in its approach. The writer/director Jingyi Shao doesn't go to the levels of bullying or peer pressure he could go to with a movie like this, but because it's on this streaming service, kids and parents watching at home will get the message. As a whole, the teens are well-represented and well-acted. Not having seen these actors before, I was interested in their various arcs and where they all ended up as characters. This is a bad straight-to-Disney+ film at all.
With everything going on in the movie, the main event almost gets overlooked. A band shows up playing "Seven Nation Army" from the White Stripes. in support of Chang building him up for his attempt at the dunk. There is a happy ending, the ESPN show Get Up reaches out for an interview, but the second dunk fails on the show. So this is where the real lesson of the film comes in. Being popular goes to his head, and he lets his friends down. The fight with Matt over the dunk was real or not, and whether Chang cheated by lowering the hoop.
Chang Can Dunk uses a Rocky theme montage, but is far from that incredible film. It's not a bad film by any means, but it lacks the gravitas that makes it a great film. The Disney+ avenue is specifically for families, and that takes away from where this movie could have gone regarding the levels of peer pressure and bullying. That being said, I still liked it and the characters within it. Especially the Krusty and Bo characters. They brought a fresh feeling to an otherwise paint-by-number inspiring sports story.
Chang Can Dunk is now streaming on Disney+.