Shaolin Soccer (2001) Review

"Shaolin Soccer" Japanese DVD Cover

"Shaolin Soccer" Japanese DVD Cover

Director: Stephen Chow, Lik-Chi Lee
Writer: Stephen Chow, Lik-Chi Lee
Producer: Lee Lik-chee
Cast: Stephen Chow, Lee Wai, Vicki Zhao Wei, Ng Man-Tat, Cecilia Cheung, Cheung Ming Ming, Law Kar-Ying, Karen Mok, Karen Morris, Alan Tam, Po Yip Tung, Patrick Tse Yin
Running Time: 112 min.

By Vic Nguyen

Overtaking From Beijing With Love as the best introduction to the work of Stephen Chow to western audiences, this big budget, FX laden production more than lives up to the hype, injecting enough comedy and action to satisfy all comers. Although Chow receives star billing, this is one of the few productions in which he is (almost) overshadowed by his supporting cast. Special nods go to Wong Yat-fei (whose blithering, chain-smoking Iron Head is one of the most memorable Stephen Chow supporting characters in recent memory), Vicky Zhao Wei (making the most out of an underwritten role), and _______ (delivering one of the best Bruce Lee impersonations you will ever see). Additionally, Ching Siu-tung’s much heralded (deservedly so) soccer sequences are groundbreaking, effortlessly combining completely respectful, cartoon-like CGI effects with Hong Kong Cinema’s trademark physical grace.

Cementing Stephen Chow as Hong Kong Cinema’s all time box office king (raking in well over $60 million HK in it’s hefty run) and nominated for multiple HK Film Awards, Shaolin Soccer is Stephen Chow’s finest accomplishment as an actor/director.

Note- Cameos include frequent female costars Karen Mok Man-wai and Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi (as male soccer players, no less!) and long-time collaborator Vincent Kok Tat-chiu (as another opposing player). In another related tidbit, co-star Patrick Tse Yin is the real life father of pop idol Nicholas Tse Ting-fung.

Vic Nguyen’s Rating: 9/10


By Alexander

I haven’t seen a soccer movie this good since Sylvester Stallone and Pele escaped occupied France in the vastly underrated Victory. Victory features an international cast of actual soccer stars and a post-First Blood Stallone who saves a couple dozen POWs from Nazi imprisonment by his ability to stop penalty kicks fired from the foot of a scowling German striker named Dieter or Max or something. Sure, the soccer-as-metaphor-for-war isn’t exactly ground-breaking and the sight of Nazi general Max Von Sydow clapping in slow motion after witnessing Pele’s bicycle-kick heroics is pretty cheesy, but with a rousing score and incredible soccer action, Victory is timeless B-movie fun.

Shaolin Soccer also has a rousing score and the soccer action IS incredible (albeit CG enhanced). The premise is wickedly original: A misfit band of brothers who studied with a Shaolin master unite under the leadership of a crippled former soccer star and enter a tournament in hopes of scoring a million dollar prize. Admittedly, their journey to the tournament is pretty dull, with the exception of an innovative scene involving a disfigured Vicki Zhao Wei and some really cool bread making, Shaolin style. But once the games begin during the latter half of the film, Shaolin Soccer shines. Stephen Chow and his teammates perform astonishing feats using their Shaolin talents to vanquish a series of foes (including one featuring an oddly mustached Cecilia Cheung). Soccer balls scream towards the goal like meteorites and players leap implausibly high. The final “battle” between the Shaolin and Evil teams is brilliant in its absurdity. It’s one of the more fun and imaginative sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie.

In addition to the blazing action, there’s also plenty of humor. Some of the more notable scenes involve a bald Vicky Wei, some sly allusions to Bruce Lee, a singing Stephen Chow, and an absolutely hilarious bit near the beginning that attempts to explain the practical uses of Shaolin.

Despite its excellence, my wife astutely observed that this movie would be a hard sell in the U.S. While tens of millions of American children play soccer, it’s doubtful even a fraction of them would clamor to see a Chinese produced film about the sport, no matter how funny or advanced the special effects. Baseball and basketball movies arrive in theaters in droves, but the last soccer oriented film to grace American screens was Ladybugs, starring Rodney Dangerfield. Remember that one? Didn’t think so. Miramax would be wise to offer the film uncut in a few select theaters then roll out the DVD INTACT to the American market, ala Shiri and Time and Tide.

Alexander’s Rating: 8.5/10


By Numskull

So this is what all the fuss is about? Hmm…good thing I didn’t believe the hype. Shaolin Soccer is an amusing diversion, but it’s hardly God’s gift to Hong Kong cinema.

I’m sure there will be no shortage of people who will gladly refer to the Miramax release (“Kung Fu Soccer”) as “dope” and not without some justification, but the film spends a little too much time reveling in its big budget and special effects, and the romantic subplot between Stephen Chiau and Vicki Zhao Wei is nothing but bullshit.

The humor is mostly visual, and it works more often than it doesn’t. Stephen Chiau elaborating upon the practical merits of learning Shaolin kung fu to Ng Man Tat produces some funny moments, and the “war movie” scene is hilarious in its out-of-place-ness. Too bad it occurs in the middle of one of the film’s worst segments…the Shaolin soccer team’s match against the bullies from the bar where First Big Brother “Iron Head” works. In this scene as well as earlier ones, that particular character is such a pathetic fucking WIMP that it’s impossible to muster any sympathy for him. When he put that guy’s underwear on his head, I wanted to kick the living shit out of him. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that all these former Shaolin students would just sit there and let the opposing team beat them half to death until their great and benevolent leader Stephen Chiau stands up to show them the way. Then, the two teams join forces in a ridiculous manner which vaguely reminded me of those crappy Saturday morning cartoons that I watched when I was a little shit of perhaps six years while stuffing my face with Froot Loops, back when they only came in three colors. Then there’s the big championship game, where the identity of the relief goalie can be seen a mile (or 1.609 kilometers) away and the reappearance of Stephen Chiau’s shitty old pair of sneakers should surprise no one.

The Universe DVD includes a 20 minute “making of” documentary, a brief feature which illustrates the implementation of some of the computer effects, a photo gallery, an outtakes segment, and two additional “director’s cut” scenes (I hated them both, but it’s nice that you’re given the option to watch them…something which Miramax isn’t likely to do for their release).

I guess I’m riding this movie pretty hard. It’s not bad, but I have an inherent hatred for the game of soccer due to growing up in a town (Agawam, MA; a.k.a. Yuppie Central) where it was less a sport than a religion, with lots of SUV-driving, fashionable cause-supporting, last name-hyphenating bitches shuttling their brats to and fro at uncivilized rates of speed and at all hours of the day. But that’s not what it’s about. We all know that soccer is REALLY about Latino countries becoming the sites of looting and rampaging after their team loses some big important match. (Or is it after they WIN?)

There, I’ve made a few more enemies. Time to call it quits.

Numskull’s Rating: 6/10


By Joe909

Stephen Chow looks like a thinner, goofier Bruce Lee throughout this crazy movie. The basic plot is that Chow is a down on his luck Shaolin student. A former soccer champion enlists Chow, after a lot of shenanigans, to form a soccer team, and finally Chow gets together his former Shaolin brothers and fashions them into his teammates.

I would say that this is one of those movies where the special effects dominate everything, but luckily they’re done well, and, more importantly, they complement the movie. It isn’t crap like “Phantom Menace:” all special effects and no story. Some of the effects are downright impressive, such as the long shot of Chow kicking a soccer ball toward a far-off brick wall.

There isn’t much real soccer in the movie, especially in the game against the Evil Team. Mostly it’s just people flying around and burning up. But regardless, the games are just as exciting as any swordplay or wire-fu fights I’ve seen in years.

One thing I would’ve liked to have seen more of was the Bruce Lee-lookalike goalie, who isn’t in the movie very much. He has the best scene in the film, in his solo stand against a team of villainous females. But he doesn’t last very long in the climactic game against the Evil Team, and is escorted off the field; though this does provide us with another funny gag, as he slips on a pair of big Bruce Lee-style sunglasses.

Shaolin Soccer has some hilarious moments, some unfunny moments, some downright exciting moments, some boring moments, and the sexiest actress I’ve seen in years: a young woman who trips over a banana peel in the beginning. Not sure of the actress’s name, but judging from the making-of documentary, she’s new to the acting business. All in all, though, Shaolin Soccer is a mixed bag.

Joe909’s Rating: 7/10

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