Shaolin Soccer (2001) / Comedy-Action

MPAA Rated: PG for comic action and violence (Hong Kong version is not rated but probably would be PG-13)
Running Time: 102 min. HK/80 min. US

Cast: Stephen Chow, Ng Man Tat, Patrick Tse, Vicki Zhao, Li Hui
Director:  Stephen Chow
Screenplay: Stephen Chow, Kan Cheung Tsang

Review published July 19, 2001

For purposes of this review, I screened the Hong Kong release in the original Cantonese.  It contains approximately 22 minutes of additional scenes, dialogue and different music.  I have not seen the dubbed US release, so please take this into account.  Some purists will insist that the lengthier and original version is better, but I cannot say for sure.  I will say that I personally would have trimmed it down, as the non-soccer scenes tend to bog down what might otherwise be a fun and exciting sports flick through and through.

Comedian Stephen Chow outdoes himself in his latest Hong Kong comedy, Shaolin Soccer, creating a memorably fun film that overcomes some serious flaws through sheer determination and ceaseless energy.  Having seen a number of Chow's previous films (Royal Tramp, Royal Tramp 2, Tricky Master), I knew what I was in for, namely, goofy comedy filled with lots of silly slapstick and in-jokes.  I don't generally find it funny, figuring that comedy is mostly a cultural thing, with many jokes lost in the translation.  Shaolin Soccer has a good share of these kinds of jokes, but by and large, once the action on the field begins, it hits its stride.

The movie starts with a flashback of soccer star Golden Leg blowing a shot that would cost his team the championship, and see the unruly crowd pummel him until he could no longer play.  Flash forward many years, and Golden Leg is a vagrant, who meets a street performer of sorts, Iron Leg, who tries to convince passers-by of the worthiness of kung fu.  When the two worlds collide, soccer and kung fu, it soon becomes two great tastes that taste great together, and Golden Leg consents to coach a soccer team with Iron Leg and his many brothers, each with their own respective kung fu/soccer talent.  Now they play for all the marbles in the grand tournament, but find that there's another team that might be even more up to the task of winning than they are.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Shaolin Soccer is the special effects, rivaling a huge budgeted Hollywood film in scope and execution.  Granted, it's pretty easy to tell sometimes when computer enhanced graphics were used, but for the most part, they did a pretty good job in creating the illusion of high-flying kung fu and supercharged soccer action. 

Basically, you can break down the experience in two forms.  When the players are on the field, Shaolin Soccer is very engaging, with some good action, a nice sense of style, and some funny visuals in the mix.  When they are off the field, the energy wanes considerably, with some not-so-funny gags, and a silly effort at a romance.  Once again, much of this is trimmed out of the 80 minute Miramax release, so your mileage will certainly vary.

Shaolin Soccer is just entertaining enough to be worthy of a recommendation for those in the mood for no-brain sports excitement.  I won't go so far as to say it's a good film, but if you want some laughs and something to talk about around the water cooler tomorrow, you probably won't find a more unique movie experience than this one this summer.

 Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo