Projections - Movie Reviews

Shaolin Soccer
Shaolin Soccer
Starring Stephen Chow, Ng Man Tat, Vicki Zhao,
Patrick Tse Yin, Li Hui, Cecilia Cheung

Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer has been modified a bit for its subtitled North American release and if you like kung fu doned up with computer-generated imagery in a cartoonish manner, this Hong Kong export might take you by surprise. It’s rather funny, especially in the last act, but it’s not refined and as bouncing as Bend It Like Beckham. Here, the story is comparable to The Mighty Ducks or The Bad News Bears set in a major metropolis in China. Chow did the bulk of shooting in Hong Kong.

The opening highlights a big penalty kick missed in flashback to a 1981 game. That player, Fung (Ng Man-tat), now an assistant soccer coach, suffered a broken leg because of angry fans. And an old teammate, Patrick Tse’s Hung, treats him rudely, as Hung is the owner of the aptly named Team Evil. Chow’s Sing, formerly a monk from the Shaolin Temple, is a meek trash collector, but has quite a talent when a soccer ball is at his feet. Chow for some might seem like an Asian Peter Sellers in his mannerisms and deadpan humor. Sing unites with Fung to change their dreary lives around by starting a soccer team.

Akin to their aforementioned film with Walter Matthau and Emilio Estevez as the coaches, there’s a recruitment of a supposed hapless bunch. We see some beer bottles smashed over their heads and others cleaning toilets or putting toilet paper on supermarket shelves. But, in this case, they have special attributes that give them a kind of leverage on the playing field-one has a stomach that acts like a magnet and another walks above ground. Of course, Shaolin Soccer will have the climactic competition with Team Evil’s disrespectful players.

There’s a feel of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with heavy slapstick attached as the film plays in Cantonese with English subtitles. One of the amusing touches involves Sing’s romantic interest Mui (Vicki Zhao), a dumpling cook whose pimply face attracts flies; at one point Sing calls her E.T. With tigers and flaming comets, as well as fire-flying competitors, Chow brings a broad visual sense to what appeals to those who like the underdog. Even though it’s far from what Seabiscuit provides dramatically there’s something entertaining and universal about this winning combination of kung fu and the popular sport of soccer.

Shaolin Soccer

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