Sonatina for an Apocalypse: Ping Pong by Park Min-gyu

Two schoolboys are tormented, hazed by a bunch of louts working, in typical cowardly fashion, as a group. Our hero is nicknamed Nail because of the number of times he’s been struck, his companion Moai because his excessively large head evokes an Easter Island statue. Together, they must survive in the insubstantial, dull setting of their neighborhood in a South Korean town. They take refuge from their tormentors in a vacant lot, in the middle of which a ping-pong table asserts its presence. The French former world champion, Sécretin, introduces them to the subtleties of this game, which he believes somehow to lay at the origin of the world. After numerous setbacks our two schoolboys must play an epic game against opponents from the planet Ping Pong, which has become embedded in their own. The fate of humanity depends on the outcome of the match. Our two heroes are allowed to enlist the aid of famous figures; Nail chooses the mountaineer Reinhold Messner, while Moai plumps for Malcolm X.


So begins an epic match on which everyone’s fate depends.


A muted, almost characterless South Korea forms the backdrop for a sketch that could have been anodyne, banal even, but which Park Min-gyu turns into a tragicomic farce. Park takes this sordid social reality and, through his alchemic style, purifies it to leave us with the quintessence of the human soul in its barest form. Park’s writing is a world unto itselfan entelechy with its own codes, rules, ciphers, and magic keys. We move through this startling new universe, seen through the eyes of the soul, via the “I” of the hero, and cross the multiple dimensions of unknown continents. Worlds are no longer clearly separated; an abrupt change of scene may take us from Nail’s miserable neighborhood to the outer limits of the cosmos, or from the local grocery to the abyssal plains of a celestial ocean. Park plays with the limits of our perception, taking us on a voyage through the stars where Homeric twists alternate with moments of untold and unexpected tenderness.


Ping Pong presents a world of overlapping narratives that we are free to d...