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Shaolin Soccer

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 02/15/03 20:41:45

"Imagine the cast of The Matrix put together a soccer team... hell yeah!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The name rang a bell... Shaolin Soccer. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my head I remembered that this film was going to get a US release sometime this year, and that it had broken box office records in Hong Kong. And there it was, for sale on eBay for $6. Heck, I'd probably spend that much to see the movie in the theater, so getting the DVD ahead of the theatrical release would have to be a decent deal, right? Well little did I know just how good a deal this would be. I haven't had so much fun watching soccer since the last time I streaked.

Hong Kong comedy king Stephen Chow (God of Cookery, Gorgeous, Tiger Claws III) writes, directs and stars in this weird mix of martial arts, CGI, comedy and sport, and in the process has put together a flick that will undoubtably be a cult classic (and probably a long running franchise). Chow is Iron Leg, a student of Shaolin Kung Fu who is struggling to spread the word of his chosen art. His former temple buddies are all losers, having forgotten what they knew about fighting and sunk into mainstream society gigs that suck.

One (known as Iron Head) works for a mobster cleaning a nightclub, receiving humiliating orders daily. Another has ballooned in size and works in a grocery store where he's been dubbed Lazy Pig. Yet another pretends to be a high-flying businessman when it's clear he's a stiff. And so on and so forth.

But they're in luck. A lame drunk meets Iron Leg and is astonished by his skill. This lame drunk used to be a soccer star, but his leg was busted up by the crowd when he screwed up a fixed game. Having sunk to the lowest level, he sees the Shaolin student and his brothers as his way back.

And so begins the Mighty Ducks, Hong Kong style. The group of losers is forged into a team that will tackle all comers, using their martial arts skill to win soccer games on their way to take on Team Evil at the National Championships.

Which is all really not very important. What's totally important is that this movie is fricking COOL! Using CGI effects basically from start to finish, not to mention wire-fu, the screen is often a blur of fast moving soccer balls, high-flying players, very nice camera tricks and comedy that defies description. If you're a soccer purist, you're going to be busy rolling your eyes at the artistic license taken with the rules of the game, but that would be to completely miss the point. When an attacked has the ball in front of the goalie and stops, shoots him a Bruce Lee look, rears back and pounds it at the goals, only for the keeper to karate chop it back at him, it's not about whether or not this could happen in real life - it's all a big laugh.

Take for example the goalkeeper on the Shaolin side. He comes out onto the field wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit, a la Bruce Lee, and proceeds to give the Lee 'hand summon' to any attacker that comes close, before batting away any shot with martial arts moves. Of course, the ball goes right back to the attacker who peppers more shots at the goal, all of which end up back at his feet, until the attacker lets fly a shot that propels the keeper back onto his own crossbar.

See, it's ridiculous, it defies logic, but you don't care. When the keeper for Team Evil is beaten by a shot, he karate chops the goalpost, causing it to momentarily bend backwards and elude the ball. When another attacker takes a shot on goal, his shaolin strength cause a shockwave to emanate from the ball as it goes, blowing the shirt of the keeper.

This is, of course, all very ridiculous, but it's performed in such an enjoyable visual style and with tongue planted so firmly in cheek that you just go along with it, just like we did in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. With references to Jurassic Park, ET, Face|Off and the best martial arts films of the last 20 years, this is a film that often feels like an extended Nike commercial, but also gives you the thrills of a video game.

The plot behind Shaolin Soccer is silly. The romantic interest, laughable. The scene set-ups, amateurish. The dialogue, at least in the poorly subtitled version I saw, beyond terrible.

But imagine if you will a soccer team comprising of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Jet Li. Now imagine their games were broadcast by The Wachowski Brothers. If you wouldn't pay $6 to watch that team play, you're a bigger fool than I.

It will come to your screens in 2003 and when it does you MUST take a large group. Shaolin Soccer won't win any Academy Awards (though it did win the Hong Kong Film Critics award for Best Picture and bring in $60m in Hong Kong alone), but it is a movie just built to be laughed with, laughed at, and seen by people who want to have a good time. Shaolin Soccer is demented... Bring on Shaolin Soccer II.

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