In the comedy Balls of Fury, former table tennis prodigy Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) is lured out of retirement by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to infiltrate the deadly world of illegal, underground table tennis, headed up criminal overlord Feng (Christopher Walken). Under the tutelage of famed ping pong guru Master Wong (James Hong) and his niece Maggie (Maggie Q), Randy faces his childhood failures and prepares himself for the task at hand. Balls of Fury is written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (the guys behind Reno 911! and Night at the Museum), and also features Terry Crews as a muscle-bound ping pong competitor and Aisha Tyler as Feng's exotic assassin/assistant.
We had the opportunity to interview most of the central cast and crew of the wacky comedy, and if their interaction amongst each other was any indication, the fun to be had on the set of this movie trumped anything that could have made it to the screen. Even after a long day of talking to reporters and cameras, everyone was in high spirits: Dan Fogler and George Lopez were doing impressions and cracking jokes; Ben Garant (who also directed the film) and Thomas Lennon were delivering the deadpan comedic back-and-forth that so often shows up in their work; and Maggie Q, Aisha Tyler, and Terry Crews were telling stories and laughing at the top of their lungs.
According to Lennon, the idea for Balls of Fury came out of the writers' love for the classic kung fu flicks from back in the day--as well as their often cliche set-ups. "We're big fans of any sort of kung fu movie where someone has used their kung fu and something horrible happens, and then they vow to never do it again, and then get sucked into something...And then we thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if somebody vowed never to play ping pong anymore, and then gets sucked into a death match?'"
The duo also loved the notion of playing up the idea of a guy who is at the top of a game that so many people disregard--at least, in the United States. To emphasize the comedic effect, the characters treat their sport with the utmost reverence. "It seemed right to kind of take it way, way more seriously than anybody over here does," Garant observes.
Martial arts classics had a direct influence on the look of Feng's palace, where most of the story takes place. Lennon notes Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon as an inspiration, and Garant elaborates, "We took a lot of stuff from movies that took a lot of stuff from Enter the Dragon, like the Mortal Kombats, and those kind of things. Feng is like the son of an ambassador who abandons him in China after he bit Chairman Mao, and we figure he's just a fan and he does business with like the Japanese and the Koreans and the Chinese, so he just collects all of this stuff. So it was a nice way to make a palace that was sort of Ming the Merciless." Lennon throws in that Feng is also "a little Palm Springs/Liberace."
Feng's obsession with Asian culture also surfaces in the outfits of the film's leading ladies. Maggie Q says that her extravagant red dress in the movie is more a reflection of what Feng sees an Asian woman wearing, rather than what they would actually wear. Aisha Tyler, meanwhile, had a more grueling time with her wardrobe, which consisted of a mix of bizarre Far East/dominatrix costumes. "I really did have to have like three spotters to get me into those things every day...And if I had to pee, it was like an operation," she laughs. Maggie Q, for her part, thinks that her co-star's perseverance paid off, saying, "She looks so hot, it's sick."
For the very central role of Feng, Christopher Walken brought his trademark eccentric delivery--that signature onscreen persona he has cultivated that leads viewers to assume he must be equally odd in real life. When asked about working with him the for the first time, Dan Fogler jokes, "Half the time, it's easy to keep a straight face because you're just steeped in fear," adding, in his best Walken voice, "You think he might grow fangs and bite your neck." Reverting back to his own voice and a tone of admiration, he says, "He just has to grin a certain way, and people flip out. I laughed all the time."
Balls of Fury is just one of many films that Fogler currently has in the works. The actor, who actually has an extensive theatre background and a Tony on his mantle, will be seen in the upcoming Good Luck Chuck with Jessica Alba and Dane Cook, Fanboys with Kristen Bell and Seth Rogen, and Kids in America with Topher Grace and Michelle Trachtenberg. He'll also be contributing his voice talents to Disney's Rapunzel and the Jim Carrey/Steve Carell Dr. Seuss feature Horton Hears a Who, and will be portraying Alfred Hitchcock in Number 13.
But even all of this amazing success in the film world doesn't stop Lennon and Garant from making a few deadpan, good-natured jokes at his expense. When asked if they felt it was possible for a guy like Fogler's character to hook up with a gal like Maggie Q's character, the writing partners jump in without hesitation: "Oh, God, no. Not a chance." This sets off a Billy Joel/Christie Brinkley debate, after which the two agree to play it PC, delivering the public service announcement, "Kids, beauty's on the inside."
Maggie Q herself is quick to jump to the defense of her leading man. "It was so easy to fall in love with him. No acting involved. He's the greatest...Don't be fooled. Women love Dan Fogler. There was no short supply of women always wanting to talk to him and be near him."
Surprisingly, Balls of Fury doesn't rely much on jokes involving male genitalia, contrary to what the advertising campaign would suggest. "We like the title because it feels like a bad translation of something that probably sounds great in Mandarin," Garant says. Lennon notes a bit of trivia, adding, "If you look at the Chinese characters on the paddle, they say, 'Ping pong with the force of a tornado.' Because believe it or not, there is no translation in Chinese for 'Balls of Fury.' It means nothing."
In the realm of future projects, Lennon and Garant have already geared up for Night at the Museum 2, the sequel to 2006's surprise holiday hit. Ben Stiller is attached to reprise his role as niceguy security guard Larry Daley, and Lennon and Garant promise to expand the universe of the film, saying that some of the story will take place beyond the museum. Beyond that, they are quiet on specific details, for fear that divulging the movie's secrets in advance would result in all of us being snuffed out by studio goons. Because, of course, that's how Hollywood rolls.