Written and directed by Jingyi Shao, “Chang Can Dunk” follows the titular Asian-American high schooler, played by Bloom Li, who wants to become popular. He used to be best friends with Matt (Chase Liefeld), but while Matt climbed up the social ladder because of his basketball skills, Chang didn’t and is hence at constant odds with him. When Kristy (Zoe Renee) enters the picture, Chang falls in love with her almost immediately. But when he senses that this relationship can be jeopardized by Matt, he decides to bury Matt’s image by challenging him. Because Chang thinks that if Matt isn’t popular anymore, he won’t have any hold over Kristy. And since Chang loves basketball, the stakes are set around the sport. If Chang succeeds in dunking the ball, he’ll take Matt’s Kobe Bryant jersey and shave Matt’s head in public. If Chang fails to dunk, he’s going to give up his collector’s edition Pokémon card. The outcome is what you’d expect from a coming-of-age movie. However, the route that’s been taken is unexpected and heartwarming.
Major Spoilers Ahead
When Does It Become Apparent That Chang Can’t Dunk?
Chang initially tries to train with his best friend Bo (Ben Wang), but that only gives him loads of body pain. So, he seeks out Deandre (Dexter Darden), a YouTuber who used to be a pro basketball player and works at Verizon and asks him to teach him how to dunk. Deandre asks for money. However, since Chang and Bo are high schoolers, they don’t have any cash. So, Bo makes a deal. He says that if Deandre teaches Chang for free, he’s going to edit his videos for free. Based on that, Chang’s training starts, and his athleticism reaches new heights. That said, he still fails to dunk the ball into the hoop, even on the eve of the big day, where he has to do the same in front of Matt and the rest of his classmates. Fearing the worst, he breaks into his school to pay one last visit to the basketball court. It seems like he does it to practice some more. But the truth of the matter is that he goes in there to tamper with the height of the hoop. Basically, he lowers it from the standard 10 feet so that he can surely win the bet.
To everyone’s surprise, Chang does manage to dunk the ball. He cements his romantic relationship with Kristy. He becomes the most popular kid in high school. He gets a call from ESPN for a spot on their morning show because his story has gone viral. He goes to New York with Kristy, Deandre, and Bo. His interview goes quite well. But when one of the interviewers asks him to dunk the ball on live television, he fails spectacularly. So, that’s the first explicit sign we get regarding Chang’s inability to dunk. Since everyone lets that slide, he continues to ride the high of his success. That’s why he forgets to try and get his companions into the NBA party and makes that night all about himself, thereby sidelining the contribution of his friends. This creates a sense of animosity between them. The final nail in the coffin is delivered by Matt, though, as he shows Chang the TikTok, which proves that he tampered with the hoop. Chang refuses to admit that he has done anything wrong. However, after getting into a physical altercation with Matt, he is left with no other option but to admit that he can’t dunk without cheating.
What Spurs Chang To Be A Better Person?
When Chang’s truth comes out, he realizes that even if he failed to dunk that day, he wouldn’t have been shamed because his effort is out there for everyone to see. By tampering with the hoop, he showed that he didn’t have any confidence in himself and that he was preoccupied with impressing everyone else instead of being satisfied with who he was. When Chen (Mardy Ma) tries to explain this fact to Chang, he snaps back because he doesn’t want to accept this truth about himself. But Chang isn’t entirely at fault here. Chang’s mother isn’t always supportive of the decisions he wants to make, which is partly the reason why Chang is so insecure about himself. The reason for Chen’s overall morbidity is clearly because of the grueling nature of her job and her estrangement from her husband. However, she realizes that, as a mother, she can’t let that come between her and her son. She recognizes Chang’s determination to be a good basketball player. And after a conversation with Deandre, she overcomes her doubts and understands that he’s actually a good influence on Chang, and she should let Deandre push Chang to be better.
Now, Chang’s reconciliation with his mother is one of the steps on his journey to becoming a better person after blatantly lying to everyone. However, I think the step that actually counts as the first one is Chang’s apology. In this day and age, where accountability is nonexistent because we are so busy moving on to the next thing, actually sitting down to apologize for your mistakes is quite underrated. And not in the “YouTuber apologizes” way, but in a genuine way where you don’t use anything that’s synonymous with the phrase, “If I have hurt your feelings, then I am sorry.” Because that means you are not actually sorry. You have just added a big asterisk to your statement that indicates that your apology is only for those whose feelings have been hurt and not a sentiment that you are feeling from the bottom of your heart. So, if you pay attention to what Chang says, he truly admits that his actions were wrong, and he should’ve been happy about the fact that he has shown commitment and passion. He’s sorry because he undermined his struggle and trampled on the faith people had in him. More high schoolers should learn to be as apologetic as Chang if they make a major or minor mistake.
‘Chang Can Dunk’ Ending Explained: Does Chang Eventually Manage To Dunk?
In addition to restarting his training with Deandre, Chang mends the bridges he has broken with Chen, Bo, and Kristy. Chang and Chen saying that they love each other is so heartwarming that I couldn’t watch it without getting misty-eyed. And the two of them finishing up the construction work that Chang’s father had started is quite wholesome too. Characters dealing with physical objects that have metaphorical (and maybe some literal) weight is a pretty old trope. But it always works for me. Chang’s reunion with Bo is pretty simple. Chang’s conversation with Kristy is so mature, though, because he admits that he saw her as some kind of prize that he needed to win. He didn’t cherish the time that he was spending with her. That’s why the moment that they became a couple, Chang stopped prioritizing her, which was illustrated by his inability to get her into that party and his annoying attitude about his accomplishments. By admitting all that, Chang shows that he has learned from his mistakes, and he sees Kristy as someone dear to his heart. Chang even puts an end to his enmity with Matt. So, with all that weight lifted off his shoulders, he manages to “destroy the ground and reach the sky” and perform a successful slam dunk during an important basketball match.
As mentioned before, “Chang Can Dunk” has a predictable ending. I mean, it’s right there in the title. The movie tells us upfront that the protagonist is going to dunk. But instead of making him a straightforward underdog, Jingyi Shao decides to make him a flawed character. He shows that some of his trepidations are a result of being an Asian-American in modern America and his estranged relationship with his mother, while the rest of his characteristics are a result of who he chooses to be despite having good friends and a good mentor. However, Shao states that highschoolers have a long road ahead of them. Minor mistakes such as cheating or getting into a fight won’t define you if you hold yourself accountable for your actions. By doing so, you aren’t decreasing your dignity. In fact, you are admitting that you are human and that you are ready to evolve. We can look up to the greatest players in the world, but in order to be one, we can’t take shortcuts in terms of our personal growth. We have to be honest with ourselves because being a good person is more important than being popular. Also, like “Turning Red” and “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “Chang Can Dunk” continues the trend of standing up to an Asian mother and finding a middle ground where the parent and the child can co-exist. So, all in all, it’s a fantastic movie about basketball, and it’s certainly one of my favorites of the year. It’s a bummer that “Chang Can Dunk” isn’t playing on the big screen. Since it’s available at home, you should go and watch it ASAP!