Chang Can Dunk REVIEW – Honest & Relatable

Another underrated entry in the Disney canon.

Chang Can Dunk
Chang Can Dunk

Disney has always been the go-to platform for coming of age movies. Other platforms are definitely giving them a run for their money, but there’s been something quite special about the recent ones, like Better Nate Than Ever and Hollywood Stargirl. The stories are more diverse, for sure, but the idea of dreams has also become more varied and nuanced.

Chang (Bloom Li) loves basketball. The very first day of school and he’s wearing a basketball jersey. Yet, despite this interest, he’s never tried out for the school team. Probably because his former good friend Matt (Chase Liefield) is the star of the basketball team, and Chang finds himself wanting in comparison.

To make matters worse, when new student Kristy (Zoe Renee) joins their school, she also captures Matt’s interest. Chang can’t understand why Matt is so determined to stake a claim in everything he likes. Unable to take it anymore, and in a fit of anger, Chang contests Matt’s claim that he can’t dunk. They make a bet, and Chang has a few months to learn how to dunk.

Chang is 5’8, which isn’t exactly prime height for dunking. This means he’ll need to physically train to build up core muscles that would allow him to get more height when he jumps. He also needs a coach, but with barely any money to his name, it’s a tall order. Chang accidentally stumbles onto Deandre’s (Dexter Darden) YouTube channel, and his good friend Bo (Ben Wang) helps him strike a deal with the man. Bo will make Deandre’s channel more “lit” if Deandre helps train Chang.

Director Shao Jingyi presents this whole training sequence in vlog style, which kept things entertaining while helping to flesh out the friendship and connection between the three. Bo has no stakes in the bet, but is willing to volunteer his time and effort to help his friend accomplish his goal. As for Deandre, even though he’s initially skeptical, Chang’s work ethic and drive inspires him, just like Chang inspires us. We may not be able to relate to Chang’s desire to dunk, but we’ve all had dreams of wanting to be more than we are, of striving towards a little happiness, even if it means nothing to our future goals.

Chang’s mom cannot understand his ambition to dunk, or why he would spend so much time on that endeavour. For her, every move made must be with the future in mind. But if we’re always working towards some future event, when will we stop to smell the roses? There’s more to the present than just mere preparation for the future.

The film makes it a point to flesh out Kristy’s character, so she isn’t a mere object that two boys tussle over. She takes a firm stand with Chang as well, and makes it clear to him that she’s not something to be won in a bet. I also love that a Black girl is the love interest for both an Asian and a Caucasian boy. I think it’s important that coming of age films have such diverse representation, so different ethnicities and cultures can see themselves as desirable figures.

There’s something just so lovely and endearing about this movie, and while it does adhere to a particular formula, I do think it brings something new to the genre. The movie allows Chang to be flawed, to learn and grow, and to acknowledge that life doesn’t always pan out in the way you expect. But first, it all begins with a desire to try.

Review screener provided.

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Chang Can Dunk
Chang Can Dunk is predictable in some ways. We've seen enough sports movies to know how things pan out for the underdog. But still, Chang's journey is honest and relatable enough that you'll be content to follow along even if you know how it ends.