Chang Can Dunk (2023)

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It seems like every year, Disney puts out at least one sports-themed live-action film. Today, we take a look at the Jingyi Shao-directed basketball film, Chang Can Dunk!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the film begins, we’re introduced to high-schooler Chang, played by Bloom Li. His goal for the school year is to totally change his high school persona. He dons a new look, wants to be more popular, be acting in marching band and basketball, and like all teenagers, doesn’t really share or connect with his mother, Chen, played by Mardy Ma.

A new girl at school, Kristy, played by Zoe Renee, catches his eye and he’s instantly smitten. He tries to spend time with her to get her to like him, but he’s also competing with the quasi-bully at school, Matt, played by Chase Liefeld, who also likes Kristy. One night at a party at Matt’s house, Chang gets into a fight with Matt that eventually boils down to Chang’s inability to slam dunk. The next day at school, Chang makes a bet with Matt that in a few weeks’ time, he will dunk on the basketball hoop in their gym. If Chang dunks, Matt will have to shave his head and give Chang his prized Kobe Bryant jersey. If Chang doesn’t dunk, Chang will shave his head and give Matt his first edition shadowless Charizard Pokémon card worth thousands of dollars on eBay.

“Like a dead Peter Pan!”

Matt agrees to the challenge and right from the get-go, Chang, along with the support of his best friend, Bo, played by Ben Wang, starts practicing to make this dunk. He watches all the fitness guru videos online, engages in the disgusting diets, and even dons a nickname given to him by Bo, “The Red Panda”.

I wish this reminded me more of Kung Fu Panda and less of Turning Red!

Eventually he discovers the YouTube videos of an amateur basketball coach/slam dunker named Deandre, played by Dexter Darden. He reaches out to him to see if he can train him and they schedule a meeting. Chang demonstrates where he’s at skill-wise and Deandre agrees to train him although he wishes he had more than ten weeks to do so. He almost declines once he hears that Chang can’t pay him, but Bo, being a filmmaking wizard, offers to help Deandre with his YouTube channel by producing better filmed and edited videos. Deandre agrees to this arrangement and they begin training.

As the training progresses, Chang’s basketball skills improves and he becomes a semi-celebrity as Deandre’s videos gain traction on YouTube. His relationship with Kristy also improves during this timeframe. The only one in the dark at the moment is his mother, Chen, who doesn’t know about any of this: the bet, the basketball training, etc.

Eventually, it’s the big day and Chang and Matt face off in the high school gym with Deandre, Bo, Kristy, and much of the high school students there witnessing and filming the event. Chang takes his chance, rushes towards the hoop, jumps, and….actually slam dunks! Everyone goes wild and nobody is more ecstatic than Chang is! Chang shaves Matt’s head and wins his Kobe jersey! As the title of the movie says, Chang can dunk!

And they all lived happily ever after!

No, the movie doesn’t end there actually. Chang becomes even more famous afterwards as the video of him dunking goes viral and even results in him becoming a meme, although this worries him a little bit. But soon enough, he’s invited to appear on ESPN to talk about his journey and his slam dunk, so he and his friends head to New York to film the interview. On air, he’s even given a chance to dunk, one that he misses, but no worries, he’s done it once already before, right?

He’s invited to a special party with basketball celebrities later that night, although his friends aren’t allowed to come in as they’re no on the list. He tells them not to worry though as he’ll talk to the guy in charge to get them in. But, he’s soon distracted by all the attention and fame he’s receiving that he forgets to do so. Bo and Kristy decide to head home as they’re tired, but Deandre stays to take Chang home after.

Nobody would have blamed Deandre had he left too! Just sayin’!

The next day at school, Chang apologizes to Bo and Kristy, although Kristy doesn’t accept it. And then later Matt confronts Chang and makes a big accusation: Chang cheated during their dunk contest! Chang had snuck into the gym the night prior to the dunk and lowered the height of the basketball rim making it possible for him to dunk. This was why he was worried about the meme going viral because in the meme was a picture of the hoop and you could tell the height was lowered. This was why he couldn’t recreate the dunk on ESPN. Chang denies the accusation and this results in a physical fight between him and Matt resulting in their parents being called to the principal’s office.

This is the first time Chen comes to know about everything and is of course shocked, angry, and disappointed in Chang. She and Chang get into an argument afterwards and Chang is overwhelmed with everything and can’t deal with all that’s going on. Eventually he makes an apology video on YouTube admitting that he cheated and apologizing for it. He also apologizes sincerely to Kristy, Bo, and Deandre, who accept it. His relationship with them improves as does the relationship with his mother as he starts to spend more time with her and help her around the house.

He’s soon back to being liked and respected at school. He even patches things up with Matt and we can see the beginning of a friendship starting to blossom. The film ends with a high school basketball game wherein Chang tries to dunk and it’s left questionable as to whether or not he finally did dunk for real!

What do y’all think?

And that was Chang Can Dunk! I don’t think it’s anything amazing, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy watching it. I thought the acting was surprisingly good overall! I was really impressed with Ben Wang and Dexter Darden! Even Bloom Li impressed me even though I found his character very unlikeable. I guess Chase Liefeld was the only one I wasn’t swayed by.

The story was a simple one showcasing the pitfalls of pride and cheating, but also the hope that when you try to make amends and make things better, people will accept it and your life won’t be ruined. I personally didn’t think the film would go the cheating route and would instead be about him training for the entire film and then finally at the end of the film, he would either make or fail the slam dunk. But all in all, for a film that I’m not really sure why it was made, it wasn’t a bad one.

So, my final score for this film is 28/35 = 80% (B-) !

The next review will be posted on April 28, 2023.

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