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Shaolin Soccer

China (2001), 113 minutes
Starring: Chow, Vicky Zhao, Ng Man, Patrick Tse, Karen Mok
Reviewer: Teri Tom
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts
Rating: 5
I wasn’’t able to take notes during Shaolin Soccer. It’s so ridiculously simple and funny, I threw up my hands, dropped my pen, sat back, and had a heckuva good time. The plot boils down to a raggedy gaggle of down-and-out Shaolin monks who reunite to form, of all things, a soccer team. This gives way to a whole lot of far-out, computer-generated footballer “moves.” There’s also a love story, a sci-fi shootout with the ergogenic-aided Evil Team, and more than a few morals to take home.
Chow puts the Bruce Lee impersonation he displayed in Fist Of Fury 1991 to good use here. Whether or not intentional, his mannerisms in Shaolin Soccer remind me of the best elements of Bruce’s comedic side (a side that has gone underappreciated and overshadowed by his towering martial arts image). And while I may be missing something in the subtitled translation, I found Chow’s dialogue delivery pretty darn funny all by itself.

It also helps that Chow is surrounded by a pretty motley crew, highlighted by the requisite adorable Dough Boy and obvious Game Of Death Bruce Lee imitations, which are left to the team’s goalkeeper. We get some great Stooges-like routines between Chow and a guitar-strumming fellow monk. And Vicky Zhoa Wei is irresistible as Chow’s dermatologically challenged love interest.The premise of this film is so outrageous, the cartoon qualities of CGI provide a perfect match. Finally! Overblown special effects put to good use!

I have only one complaint about Shaolin Soccer, and it has nothing to do with the film itself, but its treatment by Miramax. Having seen both the original DVD version and the hacked up cut that ended up on screen, I am furious. There may not be a lot missing time wise from the original, but there are KEY scenes gone – vanished. KEY plot scenes, particularly one at the beginning of the film. Its absence from the U.S. version COMPLETELY changes the tone and message of the film. It adds a character twist from which a film as simple as Shaolin Soccer certainly benefits. Do the idiots at Miramax think we U.S. viewers can only handle a dumbed down cut of an already dumbed down movie? I tremble at the thought of what they’ll do to Hero.Still, even Team Evil over at Miramax can’t keep a good film down. I’ve mentioned before how serious films without irony and sarcasm are a refreshing exception to the norm. Well, it’s also nice to have a comedy like Shaolin Soccer, free of gutter humor and irony, with a good heart, and unashamed of being a purely feel-good movie.