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SHAOLIN SOCCER (Siu lam juk kau)(director/writer: Stephen Chow; screenwriter: Kan-Cheung Tsang; cinematographers: Ting Wo Kwong/Pak Huen Kwen; editor: Kit-Wai Kai; music: Raymond Wong; cast: Stephen Chow (Sing), Vicki Zhao (Mui), Ng Man Tat (Fung), Patrick Tse Yin (Hung), Yut Fei Wong (Iron Head); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Yeung Kwok Fai/Stephen Chow; Miramax; 2001-Hong Kong-dubbed in English)
“A hard chestnut to swallow.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A cartoonish Hong Kong comedy about the marriage of soccer and kung fu that in no way can be taken seriously. It was shot by director, co-writer, co-producer and star Stephen Chow in Shanghai, where it was ironically banned in mainland China by its Film Bureau for supposedly presenting a disrespectful image of soccer. The film failed to catch on in the States because Miramax held it back for too long and when released didn’t know how to promote it. I found it silly and sophomoric but slightly entertaining, pleasant in a crowd-pleasing way and packing a lot of enthusiastic energy with its visually pleasing photography and continuous choreographed dazzling special effects and non-stop action sequences. But its tiresome all too familiar sports inspirational story of the underdogs going up against the heavy favorites in the big game, was a hard chestnut to swallow.

Sing (Stephen Chow) is an itinerant can-collector, whose menial work leaves him with torn sneakers and hunger pangs. But his confidence is soaring because of his great agility and ability to kick a soccer ball with a supernatural force. Sing still believes in the great kung fu skills he learned as a former Shaolin monk, where he qualifies as a master but the modern world no longer has any use for it. In the street he meets a former great soccer player Fung (Ng Man Tat), whose career was ruined when egomaniacal soccer superstar and now acclaimed soccer coach Hung (Patrick Tse Yin), garbed with Hollywood sunglasses, a frozen contemptuous smile and lacquered hair, hired a goon to break super star Fung’s leg during a key game that was also fixed. This left him as a broken down cripple who lost his self-respect and now acts like a buffoon, working as an orderly for the evil Hung. Fired from his menial job with some harsh reprimands by the mean-spirited smirking Hung, the servile Fung vows to become a soccer coach and enter a team in the tournament where Hung’s Team Evil, dressed in black Darth Vader-like uniforms, is favorite to win. The winning team gets one million dollars and instant fame, which are the other lures beside the revenge factor for Fung.

Fung meets garbage collector Sing in the crowded streets of downtown Shanghai, where Sing claims knowledge of kung fu could have helped a woman tripping on a banana peel avoid that spill. This is good enough for Fung, who is excited to learn that Sing will gather a soccer team together from all the other ex-monks–knowledgeable in kung fu but not knowing squat about soccer. Most are working at menial jobs and all have lost their former skills in kung fu, but for Sing. One man doesn’t make a team according to Fung so the soccer maven teaches everyone the fundamentals of the game, and in colorful digital CGI action-sequences the underdog kung fu soccer team wins every game but now must play Hung’s Team Evil. Hung dopes them up with American steroids and they have superpowers greater than Sing’s team. When they knock a number of players out of the game, a forfeit will be ruled unless they can come up with another player. To the rescue comes Sing’s ugly duckling pastry baker girlfriend Mui (Vicki Zhao), who was also a former kung fu master and through Sing’s inspiration has a facial make-over and turns out to be not only a knockout and still a great kung fu master but a goalie with supernatural powers. After winning the game for the boys, she marries Sing.

What can you say! You either enjoy it or find it unbearable. It’s all a matter of personal taste. As for me, there was one too many CGI-soccer ball shooting through the air with great speed while in flames and too much over-the-top pointless slapstick to endure in one plotless film. Though that’s not to say Stephen Chow isn’t a talent to watch, and when he put together his latest film Kung Fu Hustle everything came together just right for a real treat in unique filmmaking.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”