with Stephen Chow, Wei Zhao, Yat-Fei Wong
Directed by Stephen Chow
by Chad Van Wagner
I’ve heard Shaolin Soccer director and star Stephen Chow described as the Chinese Jim Carrey, and while that’s not really accurate, it’s not totally off-base, either. Both men are massive stars in their respective homes, both earned their reputations on silly-to-the-point-of-slapstick films, and both have more talent than meets the eye.
Shaolin Soccer is Chow’s biggest hit to date, and it’s not difficult to see why. Where past Chow films (such as Tricky Brains and God of Cookery) were almost pure sight gags with afterthought plots, …Soccer has an actual narrative arc, which makes the impossibly ridiculous comic pieces all the more hilarious. In case you’re wondering: Chow plays Sing, a down-and-out master of Shaolin, who needs to find a way to re-ignite public interest in his chosen vocation. The answer comes in the form of a shamed former soccer star (Man Tat Ng), who coaches the ludicrously unatheletic soccer team Sing recruits. Naturally, there’s a bad guy, a love interest, and a predictably triumphant third act (hey, I said it had narrative arc, I didn’t say the arc was particularly creative).
The meat of the film, however, is the utterly stupendous soccer matches where the team engages in all sorts of over-the-top chop sockey clichés (flying, meditation, etc.) just to get the ball in the net. These are utterly hilarious, and (like all good slapstick) indescribable (although calling them Jackie Chan meets Wyle E. Coyote gets you in the ballpark).
Shaolin Soccer is – like Bad News Bears, Caddyshack, and other Western sports comedies of the past – goofily inspiring, and well worth repeated viewings. Unfortunately, American distributor Miramax all but destroyed the film’s chances here in the States, with atrocious dubbing, moronic edits, and a DVD release that was so on again, off again, I can’t even say for sure if it’s available as you read this. Hunt this down, but for god’s sake, watch it in its original language: The English soundtrack is an abomination.