DVD cover



AKA: Kung Fu Soccer

Year of release: 2001

Company: Star Overseas, Universe

Genre: comedy

Running time: 112 mins.

Director: Stephen Chow

Script: Stephen Chow, Tsang Kang-Cheung

Action director: Ching Siu-Tung

Producer: Yeung Kwok-Fai

Cinematography: Kwen Pak-Huen, Kwong Ting Wo

Editor: Wai Kit-Hai

Music: Raymond Wong

Stars: Stephen Chow, Vicky Zhao, Ng Man-Tat, Patrick Tse, Vincent Kok, Cecilia Cheung, Karen Mok

Rated IIB for crude humor

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Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin Soccer

Taking a year or two off is not uncommon for Western actors, but in the fast-paced world of Hong Kong movies, a vacation like that can seem like an eternity and spell an end to a performer's career, even if the person involved is Asia's top box office draw. So when Stephen Chow returned from his sabbatical, expectations were high. They were definitely met at the box office -- Shaolin Soccer became the all-time top-grossing domestically-produced film in Hong Kong movie history. But how is the movie itself? Thankfully, Chow hasn't lost a step. While not quite as strong as some of his earlier works, Shaolin Soccer is still a very entertaining movie that should please his fans, and perhaps win over some new ones.

The story is basically the same as many of Chow's other movies -- he plays a talented martial artist who can't find work until he is discovered by soccer coach Ng Man-Tat, who convinces Chow that by combining kung fu with soccer, they can both benefit. Chow will be able to fufill his dream of spreading the word about "true" kung fu, and Ng will be able to avenge a crippling loss from an old rival (Patrick Tse). However, unlike Chow's earlier movies, he is not so arrogant.

There has been a movement over Stephen Chow's last few films to soften his on-screen persona, and Shaolin Soccer continues that trend. Perhaps this is in reaction to Chow's -- once known as one of Hong Kong's biggest playboys -- own slowing down. At any rate, this has resulted in movies that concentrate not so much on potty humor, but that are more focused on story and "true" romance. Chow's romantic interest this time out is played by Vicky Zhao, who, like many of Chow's other love interests, has a physical problem (a disfigured face), but not so much time is spent on this -- it is definitely not a focal point of the movie, like Karen Mok in God of Cookery. Even though not as much time is spent on their relationship as in Chow's other movies, the love story seems to ring a bit truer because Chow seems more sincere.

Shaolin Soccer

So the story in Shaolin Soccer is handled well, but what about the comedy? It's not as over the top as Chow's usual "moy len tau" style, but it's still plenty goofy. Things like an impromtu song-and-dance number, Chow and Ng staging a Shaolin nightclub act, cameos by Cecilia Cheung and Karen Mok in drag, and some mandatory (for Stephen Chow) toilet humor and pop culture references await the viewer here. To this reviewer, the comedy was very funny. Even though my Cantonese is worse than Michael Wong's and I was lost in parts, Stephen Chow's likeable personality and rubber face (as well as some help from a strong supporting cast) carried the film thorugh the rocky bits, and made the good ones that much more enjoyable.

Of course, this being a soccer movie, plenty of time is dedicated to showing the sport, and these sequences are great fun as well, thanks to some inventive use of CGI that shows how kung fu can turn a soccer match into a martial arts brawl. Overall, even though Shaolin Soccer is "toned down" a bit from Stephen Chow's previous works, this kind of thing (soccer balls being turned into fireballs while a Bruce Lee clone blocks the shot) probably won't appeal to the average viewer -- at least at first blush. Like these scenes, Stephen Chow as a whole is an acquired taste -- much like a good stew, it takes a few bites to appreciate all the flavors -- but for those wanting to check out another side of Hong Kong movies besides fists of fury or dual pistol action, Shaolin Soccer is an excellent entry into the "nonsense comedy" genre which only Hong Kong (and Stephen Chow in particular) can do so well.

Shaolin Soccer