Tuesday, March 30, 2010

REVIEW: Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin Soccer
Director: Stephen Chow
Year 2001

Shaolin Soccer is probably the most fun I've had watching a movie in a long while. Stephen Chow directs and stars in this outrageous comedy about a group of Shaolin disciples reuniting after years apart to start a soccer team, using their various skills to guide them to victory. Never will you ever see a film like this. After it's release in 2001, there were many clone sports comedies that quickly emerged in the wake of Shaolin Soccer's success, but they never quite nailed the formula like Chow and company do here.

The film starts out with Stephen Chow's character, named Mighty Steel Leg Sing, trudging through life and getting no where fast. He's been berated, beaten up, and put down and that's in just the first 10 minutes of the film. He is lost, just like the rest of his fellow Shaolin disciples who have gone off on their own to make it in the non kung fu world.

Chow pondering the meaning of life.

One day he meets a young girl named Mui, who practices tai chi at her baking stand, played by the cute Vicki Zhao. We'll the formally cute Vicki Zhao. Here she's kind of funky looking because her character is on the homely side, yet Chow and her hit it off in a weird kind of way and thus starts their strange love affair.

Weird love is in the air.

After Chow's meeting with Mui he heads to meet his friend at his work and when he gets there he is beaten up by a bunch of pricks that want them to perform some unusual song and dance number for their amusement. After getting a few bottles smashed over his head, Chow can't take it anymore and uses his Shaolin skills to pay the nasty group back for their actions.

It's time for an ass whipping!

This fight scene is very creative, because it generally shies away from the usual kicking and punching you'd see in a traditional kung fu fight, and opts to go all out using a soccer ball as the main weapon. Chow uses the soccer ball in the most impressive ways imaginable, bouncing it off faces and banking it off walls to collided into a stock of bamboo sticks to have them colliding down onto his attackers. It's all filmed beautifully and the CGI used to pull off all of these impossible moves, which not perfect, is quite convincing for the over the top style the film goes for. It's absolutely hilarious and amazing to see play out.

The old Shaolin gang. All tough as nails and all bad-ass.

After combining the Shaolin style with soccer, he comes up with a plan to start a soccer team with his Shaolin brothers. He begins to recruit his pals, helped by a down and out ex soccer player named Golden Leg Fung played by Man Tat Ng. Fung offers to coach the inexperienced team in order to beat the now reigning championship coach who long ago crippled him. Their recruiting doesn't go as planned seeing that all of Chow's brothers have forgotten their Shaolin ways. They initially tell him no, but eventually come around to start their training.

Back together again.

The training montage is absolutely hilarious, where they show off their little skill and fumble at every attempt to perform a simple soccer move. The only one that has actual skill with a soccer ball is Chow's character, as we're shown him kicking a soccer ball against a wall with a target painted on it, all with his hands in his pocket. Another great gag with an egg brings chuckles as Chow must juggle an egg without breaking it. The coach throws an egg at Chow and it breaks on his crotch. The fatter Shaolin disciple loses control and starts charging for the broken egg, but before fatty can dive headlong into Chow's crotch, Chow throws an egg into his coach's mouth and the large fellow tackles the coach proceeding to give him mouth to mouth. It's that over the top kind of comedy that thrives in the asian circuit and it really works to display the charm of this film.

Chow being as cool as Chow can be.

We're then treated to their first match that is between a bunch of cheating bastards that proceed to use wrenches and low blows to take their opponents out. The game gets quite brutal as each Shaolin player is beaten into a bloody pulp. There's even a dream like sequence where Chow is pretending he's in a war as the game is going on. He's dodging bullets and army crawling under barbed wire with a rifle in hand. His coach knocks him over the head and we're shown that he was just holding a stick in the shape of a gun and crawling around on the ground. It's those weird moments that set Shaolin Soccer apart from anything that you've seen before.

It's been a while since I've been on the old soccer field,
 but I don't remember it as being so brutal.

They finally get their shit together, after one of them is horribly embarrassed by being forced to place a jock strap over his head. They unanimously find their inner piece and suddenly transform into the Shaolin bad-asses that they once were.  Just like that first fight scene, we're treated to some of the most creative moves and concepts to ever come out of a soccer game. Each set piece is more impressive then the next until they've won their little practice game and then are shown competing in their first official game. One of my favorite moments in their first game is how the other team is laughing at their outfits, looking from one player to the next. Then the game whistle sounds and suddenly Chow kicks the ball and it flies past all of the players and slams into the net. Everyone on the other team is dumbfounded. They restart for another try only to have Chow steal the ball instantly and then place it far into the net the exact same way. It's a great moment that really nails its comedic timing.

Who's the man? Chow's the man!

It's really enjoyable watching this ensemble cast as their team come from nobodies to some-bodies in a matter of a few games. They really deal with the fame in an entertaining way and really look like their having fun with it. Their interview after their first game is mostly entertaining because of how excited they are in that scene. 

We're going to Disney World!

More memorable moments are when they are given a sponsor and they get to pick their new shoes. They push the heads of the company out of the way in excitement and begin tackling the shoes they want, wrestling with each other and causing a huge scene. It's goofy, but it's got a heart so you don't feel empty inside like a lot of American comedy flicks. Like the ones with the Wilson brothers or good old Will Ferrell and his shouting antics.

The happiest group of guys you'll ever get the privilege to meet.

The team continues to win matches and impress everyone in the league. You'd think by now that they would have run out of new and inventive ways to apply the kung fu technique to soccer, but they just keep up with the insane antics. They fly in the air doing bicycle kicks and mile high headers as they dance all over the pitch, scoring full field goals.

The huddle of the Shaolin masters.

Another favorite moment happens when the goalkeeper, dressed in replica fashion after the late great Bruce Lee, stops the barrage of shots by the mustached woman's soccer team. Don't ask, you just have to see it for yourself. He easily stops all of their shots and then stands in full Bruce Lee pose, egging them on to bring it. It's one of those laugh out loud moments and it really works.

Shades of the bad-ass Bruce Lee.

They finally arrive at the championship game where they must go up against the most evil soccer team on the face of the planet. These guys are so evil that they practice under water in a swimming pool and their kicks are so strong that they empty the pool with each swift kick of their legs. Their coach, the so so evil Hung played by Yin Tse, has been injecting them with some kind of super steroid turning them into enraged unbeatable monsters. Coach Hung is also the very coach that crippled coach Fung so Fung wants to give Hung his come up-ins.

It has begun!!!!!!

The match is brutal to say the least and the evil team truly is evil. They pummel the good guys and don't even break a sweat in the process. Chow's once unstoppable shot is batted away by the other teams goalie so nonchalantly that it jars Chow's character to a stand still.

Put the coins on Chow's eyes, cause he
sure don't believe what he is seeing.

The Shaolin team starts to drop like flies as the evil guys begin breaking legs and cracking ribs with the impacts of their kicks. You'd think that the ref would be there to stop such antics, but unfortunately he's been paid off by coach Hung and working for team evil. Ain't that a bitch. I've played a few games where it seems like the refs have no love for your side, so I felt the good guy's pain when they were given a yellow card for being beaten up for no reason at all. Say what!?!?!

He may be on death's doorstep, but damn does he look COOL.

The battle rages on and finally the evil team meets its demise. I won't spoil the details in the ending, but I'll tell you it doesn't disappoint. Just when you thought all the bag of tricks were spent, they pull out the most outrageous stunt, that you really have to pinch yourself in order to believe what you're seeing. You haven't seen anything like this at the American cinema or probably ever will, unless they decide to remake this like they've done with everything else.

The stand-off.

Shaolin Soccer is as interesting as the title suggests, yet the filmmakers have pulled it off far more successfully then anyone could probably have ever anticipated. I give all the credit to Stephen Chow because you can see his influence in ever aspect of the production. Much like his follow-up, Kung Fu Hustle, he creates a world of his own where outlandish things occur, yet it feels strangely natural.

Celebrate good times, come on!

There is so much that I've left out of this review, because it's best left to be seen. There really isn't a great way to describe some of the out of this world situations that these characters get themselves into. There's even a sweet love story thrown in there that I briefly talked about. Shaolin Soccer really is a great movie that has so many elements in it from comedy, action, and the previously mentioned love story, that there really is something for everyone. This is one of those rare foreign films that I think should be easily embraced by us Americans, even the ones that hide from the dreaded subtitled films. The message for this film is universal and can be understood by anyone that loves to laugh and enjoys seeing a good old fashion underdog story with a heavy dose of crazy. It definitely must be seen to be believed.

5 out of 5 stars           One hell of a ride with a ton of laughs!


  1. What in the hell. Scott made me watch this movie a couple of years ago and it has subtitles. He told me he is illiterate so he won't watch foreign films.

  2. Looks like he's giving you a load of bullshit there. Looks like Dr. Giggles night is off!!!! Just kidding.