December 10, 2004
Starring: Stephen Chow, Vicki Zhao, Man Tat Ng, Yin Tse, Sarondar Li, Yut Fei Wong, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok, Kar-Ying Law, Kwok Kuen Chan, Ming Ming Cheung, Lam Chi Chung, Vincent Kok, Chi-Sing Lam, Hui Li, Chi Wan Sik, Kai Man Tin, Brian Tochi, Ron Yuan, ,
After three years of sitting on Shaolin Soccer (2001), Miramax has finally released the movie to a quick theatrical run before dumping it onto DVD. I guess we should be thankful that they’ve offered fans a subtitled version as well as a dubbed one. Sadly, none of the extras available on the Asian DVDs are included. I originally reviewed the Asian version (http://www.whatdvd.net/review.asp?ID=122), so how does it compare to this new one?
Shaolin Soccer is one of the most funny and entertaining underdog sports films to come out in many years. Golden Leg (Man Tat Ng), a self-absorbed star soccer player misses a crucial penalty shot in the championship game and is savagely beaten by crazed fans enraged by the loss. They break his prized “Golden Leg” which forces the fallen sports figure into retirement. His teammate, Hung (a very Jackie Chan-looking Yin Tse), becomes a rich and powerful coach of the Evil Team, the best and most vicious soccer team in the league.
Golden Leg is reduced to a pathetic ball boy with a limp. One day, he meets a young man stretching on the street. He’s a cleaner but also a post-graduate student who knows the ancient art of Shaolin kung fu. Introducing himself as Mighty Steel Leg (Stephen Chow), he talks passionately about his desire to bring his style of kung fu to the masses but cannot find the right vehicle for it. At first, he tries a hilariously awful song and dance routine (that evokes Ishtar) with his fellow martial artist, Iron Head (Yut Fei Wong), at a local restaurant. This results in a nasty pummeling by an angry audience.
After defending himself, Matrix-style, from a gang of hoodlums, Steel Leg realizes that maybe soccer is the way to bring Shaolin Kung fu to the masses. And so, with the help of Golden Leg, he recruits the other monks (with great names like Iron Shirt and Hooking Leg) in his group to form a rag-tag team of players that must find a way to work together if they are to make it to the National Soccer Tournament and play Hung’s Evil Team.
Shaolin Soccer is a classic underdog story a la The Bad News Bears (1976) but with its sports sequences done in the style of The Matrix (1999). It’s one of those premises that makes you wonder, why hadn’t someone thought of this before? Right from the studio logo, which playfully pokes fun at the opening images of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Shaolin Soccer not only lampoons the sports and kung fu film genres but also satirizes specific cinematic icons like John Woo and Bruce Lee. While the script references all of these films (and others), it is never reduced to a simple movie-quoting machine. A lot of the humour is very visual, harkening back to the age of silent comedians like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.
The real selling point of Shaolin Soccer is the eye-popping action sequences that are exaggerated to comically surreal levels. For example, when Steel Leg kicks a soda can in the air it flies high into the sky with blinding speed and promptly disappears from view, only to be found later on, imbedded in a brick wall! Director, star and co-writer, Stephen Chow uses Matrix-style computer enhanced action sequences sparingly but effectively. Soccer balls are kicked so hard that they turn, literally, into blistering fireballs that rip large swathes into the grass playing field. People fly through the air at impossible angles and a single soccer ball hit sends hapless victims flying back many feet in all directions.
Shaolin Soccer is a tale of redemption and salvation. Chow spends a significant amount of screen time developing the story, letting the audience get to know and like his heroes so that they end up rooting for Golden Leg and his team to band together and win it all. The film is very engaging and this due in large part to the charismatic presence of Stephen Chow. He invests every scene he’s in with an infectious energy that is reminiscent of Jack Chan’s movies. But Chow is different in that he knows how to build tension so that it seems like his character might actually fail, whereas with Chan, you always know he will succeed at the end.
There are no extras to speak of. Not to mention there have been some changes to the songs on the soundtrack and a few cuts here and there.
Shaolin Soccer is an entertaining romp that deserves to be as hugely successful here as it was in its native country. While the print looks good, the lack of extras makes the Asian version the one worth tracking down for fans of this movie.