2004 - PG-13 - 111 Mins.
|Director: Stephen Chow
|Producer: Kwok-fai Yeung
|Written By: Stephen Chow
|Starring: Stephen Chow, Vicky Zhao, Man Tat Ng
|Review by: Harrison Cheung
|Official Site: miramax.com/shaolin_soccer/
It’s China’s answer to ‘Miracle!’ A huge hit in the soccer-crazed world when it was originally released in 2001, Miramax acquired ‘Shaolin Soccer’ at Quentin Tarantino’s recommendation. Unfortunately, the studio was reluctant to release a foreign language film about a sport that isn’t exactly America’s favorite sport. ‘Shaolin Soccer’ is not ‘Bend it like Beckham.’ To Tarantino’s credit, his name has helped otherwise overlooked martial arts flicks get U.S. distribution (‘Iron Monkey’ for example, was also released by Miramax with Tarantino’s blessings), but ‘Shaolin Soccer’ proved to be a more difficult beast.
No, kick the *soccer* ball!
Writer/star/director, Stephen Chow, is a huge martial arts movie star in Asia. And ‘Shaolin Soccer’ is his bid for Jackie Chan-like stardom – a unique blend of comedy and martial arts. Where Chan has been called the Buster Keaton of martial arts with his very real physical comedy, Chow has gone for the Matrix/Spy Kids audience with a fun, action movie that’s smothered with state-of-the-art (for 2001) special effects. Miramax has done some digital airbrushing (replacing Chinese signage with English, for example) but the movie is reminiscent of the chop-socky fun of yesteryear, where you could enjoy the movie and all its warped humor that either hits or misses in translation.
The version of the film that’s finally been released theatrically is in Chinese with English subtitles. Apparently, it’s much better than a dubbed version that was released in Europe.
A former soccer star, nicknamed Golden Leg (Man Tat Ng), wants to coach his own team to challenge the world champions, The Evils. He comes across a street bum, Sing (played by the charismatic Stephen Chow) who happens to be a devout student of Shaolin kung fu. When the old coach sees how Shaolin kung fu can be incorporated into building a killer soccer team, Sing re-unites his old band of brothers to form the ‘Shaolin Soccer’ team. It’s a bid for the championships, Rocky-style, against The Evils - a team that dresses all in black and looks like they're manned by Asian terminators.
As the Shaolin soccer team practices and learns to re-awaken their passions and kung fu skills, the movie starts pouring on the special effects. Californians might remember a milk commercial where a cow plays soccer, kicking the ball with its four legs. And often, it’s all too obvious that the team is playing with a special effects ball that’s spiced up with flames, tornadoes and Matrix-like gravity wells. But that’s part of the appeal of the movie.
The weirdest parts of ‘Shaolin Soccer’ are jokes that don’t quite make the cultural leap. There’s an outdoor bakery, aptly named ‘Sweet Sweaty Buns’ that would absolutely fail every health code here. There are strategic appearances of transvestites. And, there's this very bizarre scene where one soccer player decides to humiliate a losing player by pulling off his underwear and ordering the loser to wear it on his head. So the winner is standing there without any pants on, laughing at the loser with the shorts on his head. (Don’t worry, it’s PG-13.) Um, don’t see that happening on the soccer fields of North America!
Nevertheless, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ is a very enjoyable family movie that, like ‘Miracle,’ ‘Remember the Titans,’ or ‘Mighty Ducks’ teaches sport as a way of self-confidence and victory. It’s a great primer for kids to get into foreign movies as they ponder some strange sights and sounds in urban China. With its martial arts choreography and special effects, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ enters every kung fu aficionado’s library of must-see comedies. And, as a triple threat, Stephen Chow has a promising career for a future Hollywood cross-over.