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A review of Shaolin Soccer, I've yet to see it.
Story: After soccer superstar "Golden Leg" Fung (Ng Man Tat) decides to take a "dishonor" check to lose an important soccer match, his career goes down the drain as the crowd rushes the field and beats and cripples Fung for his missed goal. Twenty years later, Fung is a lackey for evil soccer furor, Hung (Patrick Tse), who happens to not only used to be the teammate Fung picked on, but now a soccer legend and the chairman of the National Soccer League. Depressed and broken for his reversalof fortune and the particular truths he finds out about his accident, Fung walks the streets finding reasons to live. Fortunately, Fung stumbles upon Sing (Stephen Chow), a martial artists trying to find ways to bring Kung Fu into the mainstream. Aftermuch preparation and soul searching, Fung gathers Sing and his Shaolin brothers together to form a team like no other: a Kung Fu based soccer team. While Sing trains and battles it out Shaolin style in the soccer ring, he attempts to woo Mei (Vicki Zhao Wei's), a shy, charming but hideously-looking girl who uses her Tai Chi skills to make the damn best mantou (steamed bread) in the world
Review: Alright. I think this needs to be said and deserves to be spoken out loud at least 3 times a day before breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"Stephen Chow is a golden god."
Not only that, but he's a genius in every possible way. How this man became into being and achieved the intelligence he has now blows my mind. Now, take a moment and think about it and answer this next inquiry for me.
Can anyone name a good soccer movie that has ever come out?
As for the guy in the back row who said, "Lady Bugs," you need to go find a nice long pole, lube it up with some KY, sit on it and spin. For one, "Lady Bugs" was not a good movie. I weep for the Jonathon Brandis fans of the world.
But I digress...
I'm quite aware that I'm waxing Stephen Chow's car with my little rant here, but he truly deserves all the credit for coming up with a movie idea that meshes soccer and martial arts together in a combo that works. But not only coming up with an idea that is so creative and imaginative, but also being able to execute it in the most beautiful way possible. Everything about it falls into place just perfectly. Who would have thought that Soccer and Kung Fu would go together like Britney Spears and schoolgirl uniforms? Who would even consider it?
Now imagine Stephen Chow walking into the Executive Producer's office and sitting down and explaining to him the treatment to his film. I imagine it would go something like this:
STEPHEN CHOW: I got an idea!
EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: What is it? I hope it's not anything like that Vampire/Ballroom Dance movie script you gave us before.
CHOW: Nah, it's even better! What do you think about a Musical with Shaolin monks in it?
PRODUCER: Ain't feeling it. Sorry.
CHOW: Hmmm... Darn. That was going to be my Michael Wong vehicle. Let's see... wait. I got an idea. Soccer and Kung Fu...
PRODUCER: Interesting... You're a genius, Chow! Finally, we'll beat that boat/love movie I've always hated! James Cameron, I own you! Your soul shall be mine!
Perhaps not. But in a more beautiful, distant place, Shaolin Soccer would have toppled Titanic in box office earnings. And I'll give you two reasons why. Or why it should have.
Originality and Heart.
Not only do I find Shaolin Soccer to be a fresh breath of new air for Hong Kong cinema, it's a martial arts comedy that has some true heart and love. You can tell from the very beginning that not only was there a lot of time and effort put in to conduct a genre movie of this caliber in terms of special effects, casting and story, but there is a certain amount earnest and seriousness that definitely rings throughout the picture. The first inclination of this has to be Stephen Chow's remarkably straight-faced, Woody Allen-esque performance of Sing.
What makes Sing so lovable in Shaolin Soccer is Chow's raw ingenuity for exaggerated pantomimes. His facial expressions declare a particular innocence that becomes heartwarmingly recognizable, as if each wink and blink, and every stupid grin he throws at you becomes a form of cinematic flirtation. His delivery in his lines pay homage to Jerry Lewis, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks and even Mr. Allen himself as each sentence that comes out of his mouth is followed by the slight chin dropping and curious stare waiting to be recognized and given attention to. But I'm not going to rule out the great supporting cast that makesup Sing's fellow Shaolin brothers that form the rest of the team. Casted from the crew of Stephen Chow's own company, the Shaolin brothers range from a Bruce Lee look-a-like goalie to a break dancing player. And I can't mention enough how many times I died laughing at the character of First Brother and his unattractively droopy face and his "Iron Head" antics.
(Here is where I talk about Vicki Zhao Wei and how great and beautiful she is, but can't... because the mere thought of her ruins my pants... and I'm running out of pants.)
The cinematography is rich in providing the epic style feel to the film and broadening the scope of the picture. Within the hands of cinematographer Kwong Ting Wo, Shaolin Soccer is delivers some of the most dynamic camera movements anyone has seen in Hong Kong cinema in recent times. The raw ingenuity and the gorgeous movement of the soccer balls as the camera wraps around the burning, racing speed of the CG ball is quite an extraordinary feet in preparation and execution. One amazing shot in particular had the camera follow the ball across the field from a bird's eye view closing in on each pass to follow up and then out again to where Chow does a super flying dragon kick at the ball. It really is amazing.
(Here is where I talk about Vicki Zhao Wei again… pants less.)
Probably the one thing everyone will be talking about for a long time after watching this film are the utterly amazing and inventive special effects. Created by Centro Digital, the same special effects company that engineered the magical wizardry and electric Shaolin martial arts effects of The Storm Riders, Shaolin Soccer not only becomes a comedic spectacle, but a Kung Fu marvel. Though it may be easy to say that the special effects have a certain amount of exaggerated direction, the nuances are what make them exciting to watch. The subtle detailing of each glowing and beautifully sculpted effects are reminiscent of Japanese anime in the sense of style and ambient flavor. A good example of this is in the scene where the "Evil Team blocks Chow's first kick" where the soccer ball starts out as a burning sunspot and into a flaming, roaring panther.
If you really think about it, the basic story of the movie is very spiritual. In all actuality, Sing is really a messiah, so to speak. And all he really wants to do is spread the word of Shaolin: "The Truth lies within us. The way of life is Self-discovery." Soccer then becomes the metaphor for the Earth because of the fact that it is the most viewed sporting event in the world. Therefore, the next time someone tells me that Shaolin Soccer was a good movie but had a weak storyline, I'm going to tie them up and make them watch "Lady Bugs" back to back for a month straight just to make a point that Shaolin Soccer rocks the party that rocks the party.