Chang Can Dunk Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
This typical Disney coming-of-age family flick is much better than expected, as it intertwines clichéd, yet effective sports-drama elements.
Genre: Drama / Sports
Director: Jingyi Shao
Cast: Bloom Li, Dexter Darden, Zoe Renee, Ben Wang, Mardy Ma, Chase Liefeld, Elizabeth Ingram, Jim E. Chandler & Cathy Salvodon.
Run Time: 109 min.
US Release: 10 March 2023 (Disney+)
UK Release: 10 March 2023 (Disney+)
German Release: 10 March 2023 (Disney+)
I have seen enough Disney pictures that are aimed at teenagers, to know that only a handful are really worth watching. Most of them are sappy, overly cheesy, as well as intensely preachy! So, why did I decide to watch it anyway? First of all, I love basketball! Hustle was in my top fifteen favourite movies of last year. Second, I started hearing a lot of positive talk about the premise. But is all the buzz justified? Grab your basketball as we dribble our way through my review for… Chang Can Dunk!
Chang is a young Asian-American teenager and basketball enthusiast, who simply wants to prove to his classmates that he can dunk while conquering the girl! In the end, he will be learning a lot more about himself, his friends, and his mother.
Jingyi Shao conceived the script back in 2019, which was then shelved in 2020, due to the outbreak of the COVID-pandemic. By the end of 2021, it was reported that Shao would direct his story, in what is his feature-length debut. He drew inspiration from his own experience in the film industry, just like the daily issues that people have to face. Even more important, this is an inspiring movie, with positive messages, starring an Asian-American lead!
The first act pretty much feels like a typical, cheesy, Disney Channel picture. Chang is the geeky unpopular kid in school, with an aptitude for basketball. In an effort to change his image, he changes his fashion style at the beginning of the new school year. He also falls for the new girl. His efforts to become more popular fail, as his former best friend Matt ousts him, leading to a childish dispute, in which he bets Matt that he’ll be able to dunk by homecoming. Chang is also shown to be petty when it comes to his mother.
Further issues include the depiction of high school romance, containing no built-up or chemistry. Then there is the fall of grace, once Chang becomes popular. It feels rushed, not letting the moment develop naturally. Worst, though, it doesn’t seem to be that much out of character for the main persona.
The plot picks up once he gets help from a basketball marvel. The training montages are engaging, the back plus forth between the lead and Deandre is entertaining, however, most impressive is Chang’s iron will to reach his goal. It takes a little dip once he gets consumed by fame, yet picks up with an incredibly strong last act, reminiscent of some of the best sports dramas out there. Those montages are surprisingly emotional.
Dialogues sound passionate when talking about basketball, inspiring to follow one's dreams. Nevertheless, it can turn tacky when it falls back to high school backgrounds.
Bloom Li gives a pleasant rendition of sophomore high schooler Chang. An unpopular kid, who tries to change his image through a change in style. He is also a big basketball enthusiast, showing a lot of promise. Sadly, due to his rivalry with former friend Matt, as well as being afraid of his mother's opinion, he never tried out for the school’s team. It is also unfortunate that the narrative paints him in a bad light; being disrespectful to his mother plus friends. He also has no chemistry with Renee, who is supposed to be his love interest.
Dexter Darden gives the best portrayal of all in this Disney feature, playing the incredibly charismatic Deandre, a former basketball prodigy, now creating videos for Youtube. He is the reason for the complete change in atmosphere, lending the premise a unique tone. The mentor and protegee theme works, due to their chemistry. On the other hand, it takes away screen time from Mardy Ma as Chang’s mother Chen, who gets completely sidelined.
Zoe Renee is cast as Kirsty, Chang’s love interest. She is not really fleshed out, serving simply as the motivational catharsis for our lead, thus coming off as one-dimensional. Ben Wang plays his best friend Bo, written as the tech-savvy jokester.
The camera work is a mixed bag, overusing the social media gimmick. What worked in Hustle ultimately doesn’t work in this Disney film, as the flying emoticons on-screen distract from what is happening. That said, the training montages that are filmed in this way, do obtain a better emphasis. The colour palette is warm but not overly saturated, using neon greens, reds and blues for party segments.
Some of the scenes look a little too comic bookish, with neon hues lighting the unfocused background, accentuating the characters in the foreground like images in a graphic novel. The costume design contains a mix of rebellious rock style, as well as modern sporty, using a lot of Nike wear.
The soundtrack is composed by Nathan Matthew David, who created a mix of school band tracks plus soft rock themes, suiting the setting of high school.
Verdict: Jingyi Shao’s motion-picture debut, breathes fresh air into the otherwise kitschy high school drama genre, which has been dominating the Disney Channel for decades. While not entirely breaking the mould, falling into the tacky trap during the first act, it does manage to separate itself from the usual Disney preachiness along the second and third acts. The dialogue contains genuine enthusiasm for the sport, yet sounds trashy when it comes to teenage talks. Bloom Li gives a good rendition of a teenager, however, the script does not paint him as particularly likeable. His chemistry with his romantic counterpart Zoe Renee is also nonexistent. Nonetheless, he does have immaculate appeal with co-star Ben Wang and Dexter Darden. The cinematography is a mixed bag, and the music plays modern popular songs. In the end, this high school sports drama is better than most coming-of-age stories. Chang Can Dunk deserves a 6.0 out of 10.
So, did you see this new Disney+ flick? What are your thoughts on it? Leave a comment below to let me know! Thank you for reading & if you like the content, subscribe!