(PG-13) 3 1/2 stars Here’s something you don’t see every day: a special effects-filled slapstick comedy offering big, cheesy fun for anyone willing to bask in its zippy spirit. Shaolin Soccer is goofy, wildly imaginative and oddly endearing. It’s even suitable for the whole family, unless your family is very, very conservative.
According to The New York Times, the film was released in Hong Kong back in 2001 and became a huge hit there. It was available on DVD until 2003, when Miramax bought it and tooled it up for the USA by adding new, simplified subtitles and cutting out about a half hour of subplots and brawling.
What’s left is a hoot. Writer/director/actor Stephen Chiau Sing-chi stars as Sing, a fallen Shaolin monk with “legs of steel” who now wanders the streets, punting garbage to make enough money to buy steamed sweet buns and trying to convince passersby that kung fu is “a complete way of life.”
His world changes when he meets Fung (Ng Man Tat), who was a soccer star known as “Golden Leg” until he suffered an accident during a game. Little does he know that, in fact, he was disabled on purpose by fellow teammate Hung (Patrick Tse Yin).
The wicked Hung is now the owner of a chemically-enhanced soccer outfit named Team Evil. Yes, Team Evil. Don’t you just love it when fictional villains are so arrogant that they actually label themselves evil? I wish real villains would adopt the practice. Think of how much better political debates would go if, oh … say … Dan Burton wore a lapel pin that read “Evil Rep. Burton.” Oh sure, he would still get reelected, but perhaps the margin of victory wouldn’t be quite as wide.
Anyhow, Fung convinces Sing that soccer is the ticket and the pair set out on a The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai quest to recruit Sing’s monk brothers, men who are also living lousy after abandoning the Shaolin discipline. Sing also begins to form a relationship with Mui (Vicky Zhao-wei), the sad woman who makes his favorite steamed sweet rolls.
It all adds up to lots of wild special effects-filled action scenes and soccer matches between super-powered teams incorporating loads of wire work and some spectacularly bad computer graphics. I won’t give away any of the gags — suffice to say that fans of slapstick will howl with laughter.
Shaolin Soccer is unique and how great is that? From the dialogue to the action scenes, the movie is as far from a typical Hollywood comedy/action/family film as Hong Kong is from Beverly Hills. It may be 3 years old, but this crude, good-natured farce feels new.