The Uphill Battle For Elite Teenage Asian American Athletes

By Mina T Son

During film school, my filmmaking partner Sara Newens and I came across a story that we thought should get told. Three teenage athletes competing and training around the world for a shot at Olympic glory in the ultimate underdog sport: table tennis. Sign us up! The story is unconventional, quirky and cinematic. So we took to the crowd-sourcing platform, Kickstarter, to see if we could raise money to start filming.

To our surprise, we exceeded our goal and were amazed by the outpouring of interest and support. One year and 150 hours of footage later, we have begun editing. Buoyed by the success of our first campaign, we recently returned to Kickstarter to raise post-production funds to finish this film by early 2013.

We have less than two weeks to go before our deadline (July 19), and have currently raised 30% of our $75,000 goal. We know this is a huge undertaking, but we are motivated by our belief that there are many people out there who want this film made.

Top Spin examines the juxtaposition of life as a normal, everyday teenager with the extreme sacrifice and training required of an elite athlete in an underdog sport. All our three characters, Ariel Hsing, Lily Zhang and Michael Landers have broken records for their youth, their athletic ability and their achievements in ping pong. Yet all three are heartbreakingly normal kids.

In between traveling the world to compete and train, Lily, Ariel and Michael learn to drive, go to birthday parties, fight with their parents, study for the SATs and think about where to go to for college. They are questioning and self-conscious like any other teenager struggling for definition. What drives these three teenagers to sacrifice so much for this dream? Being a table tennis Olympian will not garner high-profile corporate sponsorships, or lucrative advertising opportunities. But perhaps the underdog reputation of ping pong appeals to these teenagers precisely because they are underdogs themselves – quietly talented, non-flashy overachievers.

We want this story told because it brings to light a rarely seen world in the Asian American community – that of elite athletes. While Lily and Ariel are no Jeremy Lin, there is no denying that these teenage Olympians are genre-breakers and record-setters. We think Top Spin tells their story – and tells it in a way that appeals to a broad audience, giving their story a shot at mainstream recognition for their talent.

Crowd-funding is dynamic and fickle – that is its strength and risk! We need the support of the Asian American community now more than ever to turn our vision into a reality.

To donate to our project and learn more about Top Spin, please visit our Kickstarter page.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mina T. Son is an award-winning Korean American filmmaker whose films have screened at film festivals and museums including the National Gallery of Art, Margaret Mead, Traverse City, Mill Valley, and Cinequest. She is a two-time Student Academy Award Regional Finalist and her other awards include Best Short Documentary at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and a CINE Golden Eagle.

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