out of Five
Running time: 82
Frequently silly, fast-paced, energetic comedy with hilariously inventive set-pieces.
Amazing as it may sound, Shaolin Soccer has been languishing in the vaults of Miramax since 2001 - even longer than Zhang Yimou’s Hero. In that time, Harvey Scissorhands has had a good long think about it and has given it a thorough going-over; this version arrives with an English dub and around 30 minutes hacked out of it.
However, although that sounds like the sort of butchering that would normally have film purists up in arms, it actually works surprisingly well – the shorter running time allows for a stream-lining of its rather silly plot and the dubbed version allows for a faster gag rate and avoids the awkwardness of rapid-fire subtitles. Besides, if you want to see the original version, it’s only a few clicks away on the internet, you know.
Defeat Evil With Kung Fu Football…
Man-tat Ng (crazy name, crazy guy) stars as “Golden Leg” Fung, a champion football player who misses a crucial goal and gets his legs broken by angry fans as a result. Twenty years later, Fung is still hauling equipment for “Team Evil”, the team owned by his boss (and former team-mate) Hung (Patrick Tse). However, when Fung learns that Hung was responsible for his injury, he is quickly fired.
Fung then meets Sing (director Stephen Chow), an ex-monk obsessed with creating “a world gone Shaolin”, in which Shaolin martial arts skills can be used to solve all of life’s problems. Together they come up with the brilliant idea of hitting back at Team Evil by forming a football team made up of Sing’s former Shaolin classmates, each of whom has a special skill.
There’s also a sub-plot involving a romance between Sing and Mui (Vicki Zhao), a homely martial arts mistress reduced to selling “sweet buns” on the street (gag intended, at least in the American version).
The press notes for Shaolin Soccer describe Hong Kong actor/director Stephen Chow as Asia’s answer to Jim Carrey, the Farrelly Brothers and Chaplin, all rolled into one. While that may not be immediately obvious, it’s clear that Chow has a fine sense of physical comedy, as some of the gags are truly inspired. There are also some nice touches, such as the Bruce Lee skillz of the goalkeeper, complete with yellow and black tracksuit number.
Matrix Sports Comedy
Essentially, Shaolin Soccer is a sports comedy with Matrix-style action effects, including bullet-time and wire-fu, with a bunch of explosions thrown in for good measure. Perhaps unsurprisingly, football lends itself perfectly to kung fu-inspired stylings – hell, ALL football games should be played this way. At any rate, the games are excitingly staged and Chow’s direction is continually inventive.
The majority of the jokes are very silly indeed and the film has more than its fair share of excruciating puns, terrible visual gags and even the odd “comedy” song. However, the whole film is played with such an infectious sense of fun and at such a snappy pace that you can’t help being swept along by it.
In short, Shaolin Soccer is worth seeing for the hilarious football sequences alone; a cult hit in the making (although, technically, it already IS a cult film, because so many people have already seen it on DVD).