Zoey Renee as Kristy, Bloom Li as Chang, Dexter Darden as DeAndre, and Ben Wang as Bo in CHANG CAN DUNK, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Stephanie Mei-Ling. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Teenage angst, ahh, how it rears its confusing head, happens to pretty much every kid on the planet. Some might argue that the transition between freshman year and sophomore is the pinnacle of coming of age. Director/writer Jingyi Shao focuses on one teen’s plight to go from a nobody band geek to a popular student. Chang Can Dunk isn’t perfect. Messages are a bit mixed, and some elements are stock. Ultimately, however, Shao offers a realistic, feel-good movie that eventually wins over viewers.

Chang (Bloom Li), a 5’ 8” tall quirky kid, believes his sophomore year of high school will be different after having endured the shame of freshman year. He sports a new hairstyle, walks more confidently, and faces down the school’s favorite jock (Chase Liefeld) to prove he’s now cool. A new student, pretty bandmate Kristy (Zoe Renee), adds another element of tension between Chang and Matt that empowers Chang even more. He enlists the assistance of his friends, a former b-ball player, and internet coach De’Andre (Dexter Darden), and they work hard to help Chang dunk. The story gets a bit dodgy for me when Chang cheats to win and reaps the rewards of his tainted “win,” but Shao re-grounds the boy with a huge helping of humble pie.

Asians do play basketball, but a 5’ 8” tall dunker is rare. Shao’s story isn’t only about the underdog; he couples clever dialogue with well-crafted characters and shows us what it is like to want desperately to fit in and the pressure that forces rash decisions. He reveals much about the culture, defying some stereotypes and giving us rich characters. The cast is solid. Mardy Ma plays Chang’s mother with precision, demonstrating the struggles of a single mom, the cultural obligations and stresses put on her, and the stress that develops between her and her son. Darden provides laughs, and the kids in the film are spot-on.

Upon reflection, Shao provides hidden depth to his characters and his message. Perseverance pays off, true friends and family are invaluable, and deceit always has ramifications. We need reality checks these days, and Chang’s experiences certainly afford us those. Streaming starts today on Disney+. I am playing four stars at the top.

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