Wednesday, March 31, 2010

REVIEW: Timecrimes

Timecrimes (Los Cronocrimenes)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Year 2007

What a wonderful and twisted film Timecrimes is. It takes a simple premise and turns it into an out of control ride where the main character has to return his life back to somewhat normalacy after changing his world in the most drastic of ways. This 2007 Spanish film directed by Nacho Vigalondo is the perfect example of how a great time travel film doesn't necessarily have to be a big budget blockbuster with monumental effects. You just need a good story and superb acting to make an interesting and intriguing film that throws the audience for a loop while maintaining a sense of logic that's inherintly linked to the story.

The story plays out with a man named Hector, performed by a wonderful spanish actor, Karra Elejalde, as he falls into a situation that is way over his head.

Hector, what wonderful adventures will you get into today, you little scamp.

Hector's curiosity will get the better of him in this corkscrew of a tale. He relaxes on a lawn chair in the backyard of his country home, peering through his binoculars when he sees something moving in the woods across the way. He's intrigued and follows the movement only to see a woman undressing. Now he is really intrigued and as his wife leaves to get the groceries, he goes off to investigate.

That's right. Take it off. Take it all off you dirty bird.

He adventures into the woods and to his astonishment he finds the girl. She is totally naked and knocked out with her body resting up against a rock. He proceeds to throw some sticks at her to see if she is alive but she doesn't move. He finds enough courage to approach her seemingly lifeless body, when he is suddenly attacked by an unseen assailant. He is stabbed by a pair of scissors and is bleeding like crazy. He flees the scene and ends up finding a strange building which he breaks into.

It is empty inside, but he finds a walkie talkie and there is another person on the end. The man tells him to hurry to the top of the hill where he is at and he'll be safe. As night creeps into the world, Hector rushes up the path that climbs the hill and enters another strange building where the man with the other walkie talkie greets him. The man tells him that he saw a car coming up the drive and sure enough headlights appear as they begin getting closer and closer. The car stops and a car door can be heard shutting outside, when suddenly a strange head-wrapped man pops his face up into the window and scares the bejesus out of Hector.

Peek-a-boo you fucks you.

The man with the walkie talkie tells him to get inside this massive contraption in the middle of the room and he'll be safe there. Hector jumps in and motions for the man to follow but before Hector knows it, the giant lid begins to close and traps him inside.

Go on, get inside. There's nothing strange about this giant container.

Hector stays inside only for an instant when the lid begins to open again and there's a blinding light. His eyes adjust and he realizes that it's day light out. Confused as all hell, Hector stumbles out of the container and looks around the room. The man with the walkie talkie informs him that he has just traveled back in time an hour and this is where our film really gets going.

What the hell is going on here?

The man with the walkie talkie is actually a scientist named El Joven played by the films actual director Nacho Vigalondo. Joven has found a way to travel through time and he struggles to convince Hector that he is indeed one hour back in time. Where's Doc Brown when you need him. Joven finally convinces him by telling Hector to take his binoculars out and view his house from where they're standing. Hector is shocked to see his wife and himself working in the backyard like they were merely moments before. 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed by being back in time, he seems to feel a hint of jealousy, like this man with his wife is some kind of impostor even though it is in fact him. Driven by his jealousy he decides to put an end to this sick affair and here in lies the cause of all his hardships there after. 

Hector comes to terms that he is in fact back in time and
without the sweet musical stylings of Huey Lewis and the News.

This film handles its themes so well and does it with a whimsical edge. I really enjoy how all the things that happen to his character before the time jump seem to relate to his actions that he takes after traveling an hour back in time. The strange phone calls that he receives earlier in the film, becomes answered when he gets curious about there being another him and he instinctively calls his house to see if its true. The naked girls predicament is explained in detail and we come to find out that he had a major hand in her being at that exact moment and at that exact time. It really is mind boggling and just plain fun to see him remember how things were and act them out exactly in order to not screw up time anymore then he already has.

Foreshadowing of the monster he will become.

Not only does this film have a zig zagging and criss-crossing path, but it also has some lively visuals. There are some beautiful shots with the slasher like killer persona that has his head wrapped in bloody gauss. The melding of so many genre's mixed with a time traveling premise is something I truly have never seen before and it seems to fit perfectly. The visual eye that director Nacho Vigalondo has, really lifts this movie out of its low budget shackles and births it into a new class of higher budgeted films.

This is a great image, but seriously, do not play with scissors.

As the film goes on, Nacho always seems to up the ante. Just when you think that Hector has it all figured out and situated, another problem arises and he has to figure out a way to make things right. Even though it looks exhausting for the character you can't help but feel entertained and overjoyed at how intricate the plot intertwines with itself and how everything in the film is effected by this character's actions whether from the future, past, or present.

It's a great experience when we get to see a memorable scene from another angle and get a better perspective on what really happened in that particular event. This works so well in this film and it helps the viewer to get swept up in the mystery of what else the character had a hand in doing.

Oh snap! It's a peeping-tom stand off.

The genre mashing is one of the top accomplishments this film executes so well. The horror aspect is done well, with the masked killer stalking the main character and then pulling the complete 180 by transforming Hector into the killer. This particular point is something that is unique for this brand of time skewing films. This concept also has traces of an Italian Giallo, with an unknown knife wielding (or scissors in this case) killer.

There's also portions of this film that are quite funny. One of these scenes is where Hector the killer is trying to remember where he was when he saw the killer mocking him with his hands up pretending to have invisible binoculars. He keeps striking the pose over and over again in different directions, making him look like some kind of crazy person. These moments occur throughout the film as he tries to get his life back to normal, only to seemingly dig himself into a bigger hole.

It's also really fun to pretend you're a dirty peeping-tom.

This film really is a fun ride and one that you appreciate with multiple viewings. Knowing in advance that what is happening to the character is caused by the same character, but his future self, is the most enjoyable experience I've ever had with a time traveling movie. He really actually makes his life harder on himself and that's an interesting concept. Even though he is trying to right the wrongs that he's caused, he is the very reason those wrongs exist in the first place. 

For example, he decides that crashing the scientist's van into his other self as his past self drives his car down the street on his way to tracking down his impostor self that is hanging out with his wife in their yard. He knows he has to crash into himself because he was in the car when he did it before, but from the other angle. He is the source of his own problems and it should be a confusing mess that doesn't make a lick of sense, but the way the story is told and how it unfolds to the viewer, helps us guide along on a logical path. Instead of us trying to figure out the time frame and by doing this be taken out of the story, the director has gently taken our hand and softly pushes us along as Hector comes to terms with what he must do and what has already been done to him.

What a crappy day and the worst part of it is that he did it to himself.

If you can believe it, Hector somehow is able to figure out a way to bring the story together and find some sort of peace after all that has been done to him by himself. His self inflicted journey comes to an end in a strangely peaceful manner and brings a closing to the story and a satisfying end to his miraculous time traveling journey. I won't give you the details, because it is something you have to experience for yourself much like the entire movie. I've left a great deal out of the story and there is so much in here that it truly deserves a second or even third viewing to take it all in. It really is an amazing little film with an epic concept packaged in an ingrained and engaging story.

Taking a much needed rest after a long and turbulent journey.

So do I recommend this film? You bet your damn ass I do! This is one unique movie that doesn't let its budgetary restraints hold it back. It reaches for the stars in its overall idea and nails all the right tones. The combination of horror, comedy, and science fiction is a delicate blend that makes the piece shine over other time traveling flicks. This is the first film that I've seen by Nacho Vigalondo and he's still early in his career, but I can't wait to see what extraordinary film he comes up with next. He is a director that is on my must see list and this film is one that should not be overlooked and passed by. You'd be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out this essential little time travel movie that's big on ideas and small on disappointments.

5 out of 5 stars        A modern day science fiction classic with a few twists

REVIEW: Bullitt

Director: Peter Yates
Year 1968

Bullitt is a respectable cop thriller that came out in 1968, bringing about one of cinemas greatest car chases and possible the most famous. Now if you can believe it, this is actually my first Steve McQueen movie and I absolutely loved it. I've always been interested in the actor because of how highly Kimberly over at Cinebeats praises his work. She actually just recently posted a write up on Mr. McQueen in honor of his 80th birthday, so please check it out. She's always got a plethora of valuable info to spill.

In Bullitt, Steve plays a strong, but mostly silent San Francisco cop named (you guessed it) Frank Bullitt, who's searching for an underworld kingpin that's killed his witness that he was sworn to protect. The premise is simple and it takes its time to build, letting you get to know Bullitt as an officer of the law and as a human being. Peter Yates directs this film and he balances the screen time between Bullitt's business and personal life quite exquisitely, giving you enough information to care about the character.

Meet Bullitt, played by the iconically cool Steve McQueen.

The only other movie that I've seen by Peter Yates, was the 1983 fantasy film Krull, and the two movies couldn't be any further from each other in style and substance. Both are great films, but Bullitt is so calm and cool in it's delivery that it really sets it apart from the intrepid style of Krull, with its constant bombardment of fantastical shots and grandiose adventure.

In Bullitt, Steve McQueen's character never loses his cool no matter what the situation. He always attacks each problem with a long cool stare before he assess the situation. It's a mile apart from the frantic actors of today, but it's surprising and much appreciated to see such a classical approach to such a fervent role.

Bullitt gets the low down on the situation from assistant DA (Prick) Chalmers.

Bullitt's assignment involves protecting a witness for assistant DA Walter Chalmers, played by a ruthless Robert Vaughn. Chalmers tells him that it would benefit both their careers if every thing goes without a hitch, but Bullitt doesn't care about furthering his career in that sense. He prides himself on doing the job and doing it right, so Chalmer's underlying threats fall on deaf ears.

On the first night of protecting the witness, Bullitt feels like there's something wrong. He doesn't like the location of where their keeping the witness and has a strange feeling that this will be anything but a routine job. He leaves his officers in charge and goes to dinner with his girlfriend Cathy played by a striking Jacqueline Bisset, when the unthinkable happens. Two hitmen show up at the apartment complex where their keeping the witness, and blow the smithereens out of the officer on duty and the key witness. 

It's not a good day to be a key witness.

The sequence where this all goes down is shot with style and we're given clues as to how the hitmen get into the room, but these clues reveal for more questions on who helped them to gain access. It really is a great mystery that they set up and it's what sets our main character Bullitt into doing whatever it takes to find the answers no matter if it costs him his job.

A gruesome but beautifully filmed shot.

Luckily the officer and witness survive, but barely. They're both on life support and are each hanging on by a thread. Chalmers threatens Bullitt again, but this time he comes right out with it with no play on words. He blames the whole debacle on him and tells him that if the witness dies, he's going to have a field day with his career. After that great motivational speech from Chalmers, Bullitt heads off to follow the footsteps of the witness and to see what he did 24 hours before he was gunned down, hopefully leading him to the identity of the shooters themselves.

We are then given some amazing sequences of Steve McQueen traveling around San Francisco as he looks for clues to help him solve the case, all while driving around in a beautiful highland green 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 Fastback. Now I have no idea what all the fancy talk means, but my father in-law could talk shop about this car for days and show you how to take it apart and put it back together again blindfolded. All I know is that this is one impressive looking car and it's one of the main things people remember about this film. Well, the car and the legendary car chase that follows.

Steve McQueen, as he amps up the cool factor in his Ford Mustang.

Now we've reached the main event, the car chase. I was expecting some over the top crash course tour of San Francisco, where people are diving out of the way of the two cars as they topple over parking meters and send old ladies and their grocery bags flying into the air, but luckily what I got was a really down to earth car chase, stuck in reality and filmed lovingly as it showcased the practical stunts on display. We've become so saturated with the hollywood car chase and all its CG glory, that we've forgotten that the real thing is just as spectacular and quite majestic as we watch the two metal wonders skim across their concrete terrain at break neck speeds.

McQueen tails the bad guys.

The most impressive part about this chase sequence is the fact that Peter Yates keeps the editing to a minimum. We are treated to long shots of the cars weaving through traffic and climbing the steep streets of San Francisco. The city is a great playground for the chase to take place in and Yates uses the unique location it to its fullest by placing the camera inside of the car and giving us a first person view of the action from behind the wheel. We feel the car plummet down the street only to be yanked up violently as it hits a flat intersection. It's a wild ride and there's nothing like it.

Look at that baby go!

Not only are we given the picturesque views of the metropolis, but the chase takes us out of the congested city and into the countryside as Bullitt continues to follow his prey. It really gives an epic scope for the chase when we're confined to the grid of the dense city streets and then are unleashed out into the open roads with nothing but clear skies in all directions. This is where we're shown just how powerful these cars are when their kicked into high gear.

Just one of the tense moments in this epic car chase.

There are so many great moments in the chase and they all come off in such a grand style. From the beginning of the entire sequence, when the hitmen are tailing Bullitt and then lose him only to be tailed themselves, up until the climactic ending, the pace of the entire whole builds until its traumatic crescendo where one of our cars meets its demise in a blaze of glory. It's such an amazing accomplishment and one that has stood the test of time and earned its place in cinematic history.

It didn't end so well for the hitmen.

Having killed the only leads to finding the mastermind behind the hit, Bullitt discovers that the man that he was ordered to protect wasn't really the right guy. Through some grounded in reality detective work, they pin point the guy and find out that he will be flying out of the airport that night so they decide to set up a sting.

McQueen knows his man is around here somewhere, but
until he finds him he's just going to continue to look cool.

Bullitt arrives at the airport and stakes it out. This sequence is done with a touch of paranoia as we are shown all the people walking by as they attempt to board their plane. It's another one of those tense moments made all the more clear by the intensity in the eyes of McQueen. You can see the dire need to catch this man under the cool disposition that he always carries in every scene of this film.

Finally, he catches a break and finds the man has already boarded his plane. Bullitt orders for the plane to be grounded and awaits for the plane to be emptied. As everyone exits the plane, Bullitt notices his man run out a back exit and Bullitt springs into action, chasing the man across the hazardous runway filled with jetliners as they threaten to flatten him. He loses him in the chaos and is then shot at by the man who sets off back to the airport's main building. Once there the man loses his cool and begins shooting at security guards after he realizes that the exits are locked and he's trapped. McQueen settles the commotion with a few well placed shots, ending the long and hard journey that he had embarked on to resolve the case.

The final death blow is delivered in style.

The airport scenes are a great choice for the final showdown and give plenty of interesting vistas for filming. The runway scene is especially atmospheric, with the runway lights the only thing illuminating most of the scenes. It gives a great sense of isolation for our main character as he hunts down this fugitive, grounding the character of Bullitt in reality. He had put his entire career on the line and if he couldn't bring this man to justice then he really would be left out in the cold, giving Bullitt consequences to his actions. The whole theme of integrity is what the character of Bullitt is grounded in. It was never about the fame or the glory that Chalmers enticed Bullitt with, but the fact of keeping his word and doing his job. That was what mattered most to him and that's what all noble characters are all about and I think what the center theme of the story is about. 

Don't think he's going to be coming back from that one.

Bullitt is a class above the rest when it comes to delivering a heart pounding action set piece by grounding it in the real world, with real consequences at stake. Yates focuses on the human characteristics of Frank Bullitt and I believe the film is better for it. You are able to see him struggle with each decision and recognize him as any normal man thrown into a situation that is extraordinary. He sticks to his beliefs and gut feelings and ends up coming out on top. Steve McQueen really earned his legendary status in this film and I for one will be checking out his entire catalogue in the future. If this is just a hint to the kind of performances he brings to the table then I've got a lot more pleasant surprises coming my way. As for the film Bullitt, this is a must see for anyone that loves a classic cop movie with a cerebral edge, teeth to bare, and tires to burn.

4 out of 5 stars      A film so cool only Steve McQueen could star in it.

REVIEW: Hardware

Director: Richard Stanley
Year 1990

There are a few movies in your lifetime that come out of no where. The ones that blow you away and boggle your mind for the sheer fact that you never knew they existed. Well Hardware is one of those movies that just came out of left field for me. I'd seen Richard Stanley's other film, Dust Devil and was thoroughly impressed by that one and had heard good things about his apocalyptic Sci-Fi outing entitled Hardware, but had no idea on what a visceral film it would end up being. What a beautiful, desolate, and foreboding wasteland of a film. Filled with carnage and soaked in meaning, this film is something of a lost gem that can finally be found courtesy of the great team at Severin Films. Last year they put out this packed DVD and it was worth the wait it seems.

The red burnt sky of the wasteland.

Hardware is every bit as vivacious as was told by the various reviews I browsed over in anticipation of the DVD release and the inevitable viewing. The colors pop onto the screen and beg to be washed over by a watchful eye. Not only are the colors something to behold, but the imagery is bold and abrasive. Nothing is squeaky clean in this depressing world of Hardware. Everything is used and rusted, discovered by some second hand scavenger given down from generation to generation. Deteriorated until its first intended use is now something quite entirely different. This is post apocalyptic at its finest.

A beautifully shot vista of a broken world.

The story starts out with a lone scavenger crossing a desert like landscape in search of lost and discarded objects. This stranger comes across a broken wreckage of mechanical parts and scoops it up and heads off into the unknown. We then switch over to two men as they travel through what looks like a trash heap, but is really the outskirts of a large shanty like city. One of the men is Moses Baxter played by a strong and heroic looking Dylan McDermott and the other is Shades played by John Lynch. The two make their way across this disjointed terrain on their way to a more civilized portion of town, yet still as dysfunctional as their present locale.

Getting down and dirty with McDurmott as Moses Baxter.

They stop at a junk peddler's shop to browse his wares and maybe trade some of their findings in. The shop owner is named Alvy played by a thick Mark Northover who was none other then Burglekutt for you Willow fans out there. Both Moses and Shades are talking to Alvy when a strange man enters the shop in stylistic splendor.

Now that's a stylistic entrance.

This stranger was the scavenger that we saw at the beginning of the film and he's dropping off his most recent find to see how much it is worth. He leaves as mysteriously as he had arrived and Moses asks if he can buy the scrap metal from Alvy. Alvy gives him a price and Moses pays and takes off.


After leaving the shop, Moses and Shades head to an apartment complex that's just a bit more classy then the rest of the junk heaps around the area. Moses is here to meet his off again on again girlfriend and they haven't seen each other for a long while now. He comes bearing gifts in the form of the scrap metal he has just picked up. His girlfriend is an artist and sculptor and would appreciate such an otherwise shitty gift. His girlfriend is named Jill and is played by the hypnotically beautiful Stacey Travis in one of her earliest screen roles. She's gone on to play a countless number of TV roles, but in this film she shows us that she can really shine in a starring role as the chick you don't want to mess with when the shit hits the fan.

Jill takes a cigarette break from the dismal
landscape outside her living room window.

When Moses first arrives he gets a less then a stellar reception, but after showing her the gift that he had brought she slowly begins to come around. The two make up for lost time and like a sports team after a vigorous game, they hit the showers. This is a great time to bring up the music in this film, because once the shower montage kicks in we're blessed with an amazing song in the form of Public Image Limited's "This is what you want... This is what you get". This song is so catchy, that you'll be singing it days after viewing this movie. Anyways, the shower montage is really beautifully shot with slow fades and recessed motions. It really cranks the film up to an arty level followed by its colorful and tastefully done sex scene.

Is it hot in here or is it just my giant metallic robot hand?

The film really uses its color selections in a striking manner giving great jumps of contrast to the overall composition. For instance the scrap metal that Moses had given Jill for a gift had a robotic helmeted face that Jill decides to spray paint over with the american flag. The look of the face gives such an impression as the star patched left side of the head meets with the red and white horizontal stripes of the right side of its skull. It's a menacing sight and one that adds to the overall doom of the picture and the impending storm that is sure to strike once the robot repairs itself.

The look of absolute terror just before it decides to strike.

As I've just alluded, this scrap metal of robot parts is in-fact a disassembled robot. The only exceptional thing about this robot though is that it's a Mark 13, and a Mark 13 is a self sustaining military drone that is known to slice and dice human skin tissue and ask questions never. It's a ruff and tough hombre and we watch as the film progresses and it slowly starts to rebuilt its body with horrifying results.

Bad Robot! Bad Robot!

As Moses goes out for a few hours, the Mark 13 decides it's time to start some shit so it begins to terrorize poor Jill. It stalks her inside her apartment and starts messing with the lights. The scenes with the Mark 13 creeping around Jill's apartment are great and they're filled with suspense. It's like a scaled down and more intimate version of Ripley and the Alien's "cat and mouse game" from Ridley Scott's Alien. Most people would say that it's too similar to that Sci-Fi epic, but that would be generalizing Hardware to those few precious moments and that wouldn't be fare to such an outstanding film. In Richard Stanley's vision, every shadow lies the grim possibility of death and the lighting scheme that the director has set up for these pieces are rather effective and look stunning.

Stacy Travis looking scared shitless.

You can also see other influences that the director must of had by his other peer's work. Richard's use of color strongly resembles the great Italian horror directors Mario Bava and Dario Argento. Even Lucio Fulci seems to creep in there a bit by the amount of gore on screen. Large sections of Hardware take a cue right out of Argento's Suspiria, by casting the entire scene in a red hue, giving it an almost fantastical quality. I love these sections of the movie, because I to am infatuated by Bava and Argento's expressive use of color and how it can leave an instant impression and exhume a certain atmospheric quality to the film.

Come any closer and I'll cut your pecker off!

Also, Stanley knows how to compose a striking visual. I've noticed that he's fond of composing his subjects in a symmetrical sense, keeping the frame balanced and even. An example of this is when the robot finally attacks Jill and has her cornered in her refrigerator. He frames the robot's hand in the left side of the frame and Jill's frightened face in the right, balancing out the composition and making a striking visual image.

I imagine that this was the pitch for
the new 3D resurgence. Coming at ya!

Everything in this film is such a treat to look at that it almost appears that this was a pretty expensive shoot, but Stanley is known for creating something out of nothing and he does an amazing job here with what he has. The sets look lived in and the world is just busting at the seems. It's very impressive and something I wished I saw lots more of in the hollywood circuit.

Well, at this point of the movie our hero shows up to save the day, blasting the robot menace to kingdom come with the help of two security guards. The girl is saved and all is well, but like all good movie monsters, the bastard just won't stay down.

McDurmott, happy as a pig in shit.

Once again terror strikes and we're thrown back into a red frenzy, cast into a crimson filter. It seems like the red hues accompany the horror elements of the film and it's an interesting concept to present a visual cue for the event that is at hand. I wonder if this was indeed intentional on the directors part or just something that was a coincidence that turned out for the better. Whatever the reason the films palette is richer for it.

Just need to take a rest from all the colors.

Of course there's the gore that I mentioned earlier. Taking cues from every Lucio Fulci ever created, Stanley brings on the gore and brings it well. No other scene represents this lust for gore better then when the security guard gets cut in half by the automatic doors. Damn that is brutal and Stanley never turns away from the grotesque horror. He keeps the camera almost ground level as we stare at the dying man's intestines as someone tries to pull him away from the door. It's some hardcore stuff and very well done and for a lover of practical horror effects it's a welcomed treat. Nothing's better then using prosthetics and a little creativity.

The horror! The horror! Way to go Stanley!

And we finally come to our conclusion where the once passive Jill is pushed to her limits and must take things into her own hands. She grabs a baseball bat and swings for the fences. She literally loses control and Stacey Travis conveys this wonderfully, really throwing her entire self into those last scenes. She really owns this movie and proves that she deserved the larger role opposite the all male cast. She really shines as the heroine and I wish she would have continued to make movies like this one instead of going into television, but what the heck as long as we have her kicking ass in one flick I'm glad it's this one.

Now that is one bad-ass shot.

Hardware really is an amazing film that could have been lost to a good many people other then for the lucky few that got to see it when it first came out. I'm so glad that I got a chance to finally see it because of the newly released DVD. I got to witness the twisted tale of a post apocalyptic love story fused with a woman on the edge tale that presses the gore button and produces something so visceral and dark yet so vibrant and colorful in both the characters and atmosphere, that it leaves a burned impression in my mind as a damn good film. Must check out for anyone that absolutely loves anything post apocalyptic.

5 out of 5 stars       A colorful post apocalyptic film drenched in Sci-Fi

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

MY FILM: Among the Fallen - The Creatures

Part two of the ongoing series of behind the scenes videos of my film Among the Fallen. This one focuses on the creatures that plague the main character. Enjoy.

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!