Shaolin Soccer
(Siu lam juk kau) (2001)
Directed by Stephen Chow

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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As a young man, Fung (Man Tat Ng) was a soccer star, known as Golden Leg, but a villainous teammate, Hung (Patrick Tse), convinced him to throw a kick, for which his team's irate supporters assaulted him and broke his offending leg. Years later, the diabolical Hung has become the wealthy owner of his own soccer team and Fung has wasted his life toiling as the dastardly scoundrel's flunkey. When the now middle-aged Fung finally decides he wants something better in life, he asks Hung for his own team, but the latter contemptuously fires him instead. Fortunately, Fung soon thereafter encounters a street cleaner named Sing (Stephen Chow) who happens to be a talented martial artist and who wants to teach others how they can use such abilities in the activities of ordinary life. After seeing how Sing is able to use his skills to defeat a group of bullies by battering them with a soccer ball, Fung recruits the young man for his team and the latter, in turn, recruits his former brothers and fellow students of martial arts from the Shaolin Monastery. The new team then joins a tournament, which, inevitably, brings them into conflict with Hung's steroid powered Team Evil.

While Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer may not be the cleverest or the subtlest film I have ever encountered, it is an absolutely ludicrous and riotously funny comedy.

Dispensing with any understatement whatsoever, Chow bombards the viewer with one absurdity after another until the moviegoer, almost inevitably, finds himself submerged in a nearly drunken state of utter hilarity. Having been assaulted by numerous wildly overdone action sequences, a villain so fiendish his sadistic antics are actually laughable, several wildly bizarre song and dance routines, a completely hammy romance, and so much more, the viewer is left almost stunned by the movie. It really is a delight to watch.

Virtually every element in the film is so prodigiously overdone that the sheer monumentality of Shaolin Soccer's ridiculousness makes it genuinely funny. Sing's love interest, Mui (Vicki Zhao), for example, suffers from what could be the worst case of acne that can be seen in any movie, although, of course, the viewer knows from the instant he encounters her that she will be revealed as a beauty in the end. Not only that, but, as she is a talented martial artist in her own right, a fact revealed to Sing and the viewer by the mystical skill with which she makes buns, the latter also knows that she will have some part to play in the protagonists' victory over Team Evil. Even the inevitability with which such events unfold somehow adds to their humor. The director so develops the viewer's anticipation that he is later able to satisfy him with whatever outrageous resolution he provides for a given strand of the movie's story.

As funny as are Sing's courtship of Mui, Team Evil's preposterous villainy, and the various tangential incidents that befall the film's protagonists, Shaolin Soccer's best sequences, however, are its depictions of the soccer matches played by Fung's team. All of these are filled with such wildly exaggerated, magical kung fu techniques that they are both truly exciting and painfully hilarious. Sing and his teammates leap into and spin through the air, move so fast they are actually able to occupy multiple places at the same time, kick balls into the stratosphere, and propel balls with such force that they burst into flame or cause the earth to ripple like water below them. The viewer is almost certain to find himself laughing again and again at the sheer excess and silliness of these scenes.

Although I cannot say that Shaolin Soccer is a great movie, it is so fast paced, so utterly ridiculous, and so wildly overdone that it is one of the most entertaining comedies I have encountered in some time.

Review by Keith Allen

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