Chang is ready to move up in the world.
He’s no longer a freshman. He’s got a new hairstyle. And he just got some sweet new Air Jordans. As far as he’s concerned, this year is going to be his.
Unfortunately, that newfound confidence doesn’t even last ’til the end of the first day of school.
Matt, the school’s basketball star, cheats during gym class drills, and nobody notices or corrects it. Then Matt starts chatting up Kristy, the new girl whom Chang is crushing on. And to top it all off, Chang’s mom won’t let him get a job (so he can start earning his own money). Why? Because volunteer work looks better on college applications, she tells him.
At first, Chang wants to give up. But then he remembers something his favorite basketball star, Kobe Bryant, always talked about: Every obstacle is an opportunity to grow.
So the next time Matt gets in Chang’s way, he makes a bet with him.
I bet I can dunk.
Only problem is, Chang can’t dunk. Not yet, anyways. But as Kobe was also known for saying: Hard work outweighs talent.
Chang puts in the hard work. He gets a former-basketball-player-turned-YouTuber named Deandre to train him. He starts hanging out with Kristy and getting to know her (instead of just banking on her being impressed with his “skills”).
But as the date of the big jump approaches, Chang doubts himself. What if he still can’t dunk? What will people think of him? What will Kristy think of him?
But perhaps most importantly, What will Chang think of himself?
The overarching theme we see here is that if you really want something, you need to work for it. If you want to be good at basketball, practice every day. If you want to befriend someone, spend time getting to know that person. Don’t wait around hoping for things to fall into your lap.
But the story also tells us that even if we don’t accomplish our goals, doesn’t mean we aren’t special. That even if you fail, you should still be proud of the progress you’ve made.
But we also get a really nice story about a mother and son here. Chang’s parents are separated, and his relationship with his mom, Chen, has become strained. Chang feels that if he opens up to her, his mom might judge him and call the things he likes stupid. And he’s tired of feeling like a disappointment to her. For Chen’s part, she’s trying to raise her son to be respectful and respectable. She only wants what’s best for him, but she sometimes forgets that her son’s emotional state needs just as much nurturing as his physical and educational ones do.
Deandre reassures Chen that her son is respectful and respectable. And when Chang gets in trouble at school, Deandre explains that Chang is a good kid who just lost his way a bit. After this, Chen really tries to understand what her son is going through. She listens to him without judgment.
Kristy also talks to Chang. She tells him that even though his mom may not love him the way he wants her to, that doesn’t mean she isn’t trying her best. And later, when Chang sees the effort his mom is making, he eases up on her. The pair is able to reconcile and mend their broken relationship.
Characters learn to forgive each other. We see the value of teamwork. People apologize for their wrongdoings.
When it seems that Kristy returns his interest, Chang points at the sky and seemingly thanks God. There are a few references to the Pokémon franchise. Someone compares Matt to a Greek god. Chang jokingly says he swore a blood oath to the band director. Deandre compares dunking a basketball to a spiritual experience. We see a teenage girl wearing a hijab.
A teenage couple makes out. A boy tries to impress a girl with his talents instead of getting to know her, and she rightly calls him out for this.
We see a social-media video of a teenage boy dancing without a shirt (to show off his muscles). In another scene, the same boy removes his shirt before jumping in a pool. Other videos show male YouTubers exercising sans shirts. Stock footage shows the silhouette of a couple dancing in their swimsuits on the beach.
Chang slips and falls into a pool. He falls flat on his face the day after a hard workout due to sore muscles. And in another scene, he slips and hits his head on a basketball court.
Two teenage boys get into a fistfight at school, and we later see their injuries.
We hear that Kristy’s dad died of cancer.
There are multiple uses of “h—,” and a few each of “d–n” and “a–.” God’s name is abused twice. The f-word is bleeped out in a video.
Adults appear to have alcoholic beverages at a party.
A teenage boy breaks into his school at night and is later accused of vandalism. Chang reneges on commitments to practice dunking. He also ditches his friends at a party.
Characters cheat at sporting events. People lie. Chang wonders if Matt hates him because he’s Asian, but race has nothing to do with it.
A teenage boy is forced to have his head shaved by his classmates after he loses a bet, and he’s visibly embarrassed. Many of Chang’s classmates ignore him until he starts becoming popular on YouTube. Bullies lock him in a basement during a party. (And later, when Chang becomes popular, he starts acting just like his former bullies.) A boy says he doesn’t want to join the basketball team because he believes it’s rigged. People make rude comments online.
Chang is often disrespectful to his mom. (And in later scenes, he’s rude to other adults, as well.) A frantic woman claims that her family’s therapist said her son could have PTSD (he doesn’t). Chen is disappointed with Chang after he breaks his phone since phones are expensive, and he should’ve been more responsible.
Teenagers gamble with valuable objects (and one girl makes a small cash bet). When their parents find out, they are understandably upset.
Someone passes gas while exercising. A boy vomits after a difficult workout. While Chang’s diet and exercise regimen helps make him stronger, he doesn’t consult a doctor or other professionals about it. He chooses his regimen based on YouTube videos, and parents should be wary of the messages this could send their own children.
[Editor’s Note] And if your child is struggling with body image issues or eating disorders, Focus on the Family has resources that can help.
Chang’s biggest obstacle, as it turns out, is himself. He’s unwilling to stick with anything once it starts to get difficult. His mom knows it, his friends know it, and he knows it.
And while making bets isn’t necessarily something you would want your own child doing, it becomes the catalyst for Chang’s change.
Chang knows that if he gives up on dunking, he’ll lose more than a valuable Pokémon card—he’ll lose his dignity, the respect of his classmates and his chances with Kristy, too.
What Chang doesn’t realize is that succeeding in dunking a basketball isn’t actually the challenge. The real challenge is realizing that he’s so much more valuable and special than a sporting skill.
Chang eventually learns this lesson, and audiences clearly hear the film’s message that we should be proud of our efforts just as much as our achievements, that we should never give up.
Content-wise, there’s some mild language throughout the film (including one censored f-word). A teenage couple kisses pretty steamily. And prior to reconciling their relationship, Chang and his mom have several incredibly tense conversations and at least one shouting match.
If you want to know whether Chang can dunk, you’ll have to see the film for yourself. And with strong, inspiring messages and very few content concerns, it’s a slam dunk for the whole family.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and geeking out with her husband indulging in their “nerdoms,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything they love, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, Stargate and Lord of the Rings.