Selected on: November 13, 2003
Forget, for a moment, Miramax's unfortunate plans for an Americanized (dubbed, de-nudified) release of this recent Hong Kong classic. Admittedly, the subtitles, although an improvement over those on the God of Cookery disc, are sometimes pretty... off, but Shaolin Soccer is a complete and utter blast from start to finish. Stephen Chow hasn't found the audience here in the States the way some of his HK counterparts have; his absurdist humor and Cantonese wordplay sometimes losing a bit in the translation. But this crazy film may just change that. When he unites with "Golden Leg" Fung, a once-proud player who's now a downtrodden soccer coach, to create an all-Shaolin team (a motley crew of men with various Shaolin talents and physical or emotional problems) in order to compete against the Evil Team for a million-dollar prize, the set-up is perfect for a rousing end. Shaolin Soccer shares some elements with Cookery, including a somewhat-disfigured-but-potentially-beautiful love interest-with-magical-cooking abilities, and a similarly evil villain, but it's a formula that works.
Using a combination of CGI and wire-fu (giving it a Matrix-meets-World Cup-meets-Crouching Tiger feeling), the soccer action is both exciting and ridiculous, each game more hilariously surreal than the last. But my favorite is still the battle on a dirt field between the good guys and a dirty gangland team, in which Chow's character imagines himself out of the game and in a war zone ducking crossfire, so over-the-top violent did the game become. Another game involves women posing as men (look fast for Karen Mok of Fallen Angels and Cecilia Cheung of Tokyo Raiders), and then there's the unforgettable grand finale. Words can't do it justice. As in any HK action-comedy, some of the corny gags misfire, but those are thankfully outweighed by the ones that score. In fact, the only problem I had with the film at all is that it made me terrified to go out and play goalie in a soccer game I had the next day. Without magic iron hands, I felt a little vulnerable.-- by Craig Phillips
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