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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
Soh Yun-Huei
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   Shaolin Soccer  


Shaolin Soccer

Reviewed by Soh Yun-Huei

Director: Stephen Chow
Writing Credits: Stephen Chow, Tsang Kan Cheung
Cast: Stephen Chow, Vicki Zhao Wei, Ng Man Tat, Patrick Tse Yin
Genre: Comedy
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2001
Running Time: 111 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)

Shaolin Soccer is Hong Kong’s King of Comedy Stephen Chow’s latest directorial offering, almost three years since his last film ‘The Kings of Comedy’. Famous for slapstick comedy that appeals to the masses, Chow’s movies have, unfortunately, been on a decline since the late 90s. Shaolin Soccer, however, is a hilarious take on martial arts and soccer, and represents Chow’s long-awaited return to form.

Ming Feng (Wu Meng Da) was a celebrated soccer player with a ‘golden right foot’ twenty years ago, but was crippled due in equal parts to his greed and the devious scheme of fellow soccer player Qiang Xiong (Patrick Tse). After the incident, their fortunes were reversed, and Qiang Xiong became a famous soccer player, whilst Ming Feng is reduced to become one of Qiang Xiong’s lackeys. Through a series of chance encounters, Ming Feng teams up with Ah Xing (Stephen Chow), who, due to his Shaolin training, has a tremendously powerful kick. Ming Feng sees Ah Xing’s potential as a soccer player, and convinces him to participate in the upcoming National Soccer Championship.

However, Ah Xing alone cannot form a team, and he pays a visit to his fellow disciples, each one in possession of a different Shaolin martial art. Although all of them were unwilling to participate at first, Ah Xing manages to convince them, due largely to the grand prize of a million dollars. Despite a difficult start, the Shaolin Soccer team does well in the championship, until they meet the Devil Team, led by Qiang Xiong, in the finals.

Meanwhile, Ah Xing also makes friends with Ah Mei (Vicky Zhao Wei), a girl with a mean Tai-Chi move, but equally mean looks. Ah Mei is inordinately shy due to her unappealing looks, but gradually falls in love with Ah Xing. Unfortunately, Ah Xing does not seem to understand how she feels, and treats her as a friend. That is, until Ah Mei comes to his aid when he needs it most. Will their romance blossom? Will the Shaolin Soccer team manage to beat the Devils to win the championship?

Shaolin Soccer doesn’t boast an exceptional storyline, but the plot is enough to move the characters along. Although the film starts out a little dry, once the momentum builds, the movie is almost a laugh a minute. It’s hard not to laugh at Vicky Zhao’s second ‘look’ in the film, or a sequence that involves eggs, or the myriad soccer ‘matches’ in the show. Shaolin Soccer even manages to spoof several popular Hollywood movies, including Saving Private Ryan and The Matrix (again). One point of note is that despite it being a slapstick comedy, there is a total absence of toilet humour in Shaolin Soccer, unlike similar Hollywood movies. It’s not classy humour, but it doesn’t plumb the depths either.

Although it is a comedy more than an action movie, the action sequence choreography by maestro Chen Xiao Dong is as fantastic as ever. The cinematography, while again not of a high quality, is generally passable, and exceeds the standards set by most Hong Kong films of late. Amongst the ensemble cast, Vicky Zhao’s acting is the standout. Although her appearances in the film are few, she manages to convince in her role as a kind hearted but ugly woman. Also of note is newcomer Lee Wai, who bears a startling resemblance to celebrated Kung Fu movie star Bruce Lee.

Shaolin Soccer is not the type of movie that can ever be classified as an art film. It may not even rank amongst the best films of 2001. However, it signifies Stephen Chow’s return to form, and is a refreshing mix of martial arts, comedy, soccer and romance. The aim of such a movie is to entertain - and in this aspect, Shaolin Soccer delivers in oodles, certainly more successfully than many Hollywood movies of late.

Final Word: Wildly entertaining Hong Kong film, and certainly one of the best films to emerge from the region of late.