"Kung-fu soccer! Pow!"
If that one over-enthusiastic, plot-summarizing line of dialogue (delivered with all the air-punching, jumbo gusto that Hong Kong B-movies are known for) doesn't make you smile at its jolly absurdity, then stop reading now -- "Shaolin Soccer" isn't the movie for you.
Still smiling? Then you probably already know everything you need know about this tongue-all-the-way-through-its-cheek comedy import in which a martial-arts-trained underdog leads a team of misfits into a soccer tournament where they use CGI-souped-up ancient fighting techniques to overpower a corporate squad of scowling steroid supermen in an extreme-soccer showdown.
Written and directed by lead actor Stephen Chow (the superstar spoof king of Asian cinema), it's a proudly -- and often hysterically -- lowbrow goof on come-from-behind sports movies and wire-work kung-fu action pictures, which two years ago shattered every Hong Kong box office record and scooped up a boatload of awards.
Chow stars as a down-on-his-luck ex-shaolin-monk who meets a washed-up former soccer idol (Ng Man-Tat) and together they recruit a band of hapless oddballs with holes in their shoes to revolutionize the world of futbol. The story arc is obvious and familiar -- training montages, team unity setbacks, etc., all leading up to the Big Match against their rivals, actually called "Team Evil." Yep, "Shaolin Soccer" is just that silly. But the ludicrousness of it is the movie's delight -- up to a point.
Players regularly defy the laws of physics. Musical numbers have a tendency to break out clumsily at random ("I am also overwhelmed by the impulse to break into song!" Chow exclaims to a kung-fu-styled sweet roll maker at a bakery). Sound effects are used with outlandish results (bad guys knocked over in a fight scene get the bowling-pin treatment on the soundtrack). Power-booted soccer balls tear up the ground they traverse, fry goalies' uniforms, cause atmospheric shockwaves and, when kicked high enough, burn up on re-entry from space.
The movie's one notable hurdle is that Chow clearly values all this comical lunacy over a good script, so by the third act stupidity is threatening to outpace that jolly absurdity, and "Shaolin Soccer" is threatening to become the kind of Hong Kong movie you laugh at instead of laughing with.
This never becomes enough of a burden to spoil the fun, but it does prevent the flick from becoming the outrageous cross-cultural comedy classic it could have been.
Run time: 87 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 12th July 2001
Box Office USA: $0.2M
Distributed by: Miramax Films
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 82 Rotten: 8
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Stephen Chow
Starring: Stephen Chow as Sing, Ng Man-Tat as Fung, Patrick Tse Yin as Hung, Zhao Wei as Mui, Wong Yat-Fei as Iron Head, Tenky Tin Kai-Man as Iron Shirt, Mok Mei-Lam as Hooking Leg, Danny Chan Kwok-Kwan as Empty Hands, Lam Tze-Chung as Weight Vest, Karen Mok Man-Wai as Dragon Twin, Cecilia Cheung as Dragon Twin, Lee Kin-Yan as Manny
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