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Shaolin Soccer

Director: Zhou Xingchi (Stephen Chow) 2001

Shaolin Soccer, Hong Kong actor/director Stephen Chow's latest comedy, has two important themes:

1. Kungfu can change your life.
2. Soccer is an extremely violent, unsophisticated sport, governed by corrupt, lawless organizations, where victory goes to the team with the most firepower, up to and including nuclear-powered football cleats.

Shaolin Soccer is what Hollywood producers call "hi-concept." Not to be confused with lofty conceptual thinking, the term refers to formula movies where the main plot is gimmicky enough to be readily understandable by an eight-year-old. "Alright, listen to this!" barks the movie producer into his cell phone, as he gestures wildly with a bottle of Perrier. "Shaolin is famous for kungfu, right? You with me? Alright, now get this: Soccer! Shaolin Soccer! Get it?! It's so brilliant we won't even need a script, just some monks, a football field and a couple million in effects!"

Indeed, all you need to know about the plot of Shaolin Soccer is pretty much contained in the title. It's Bad News Bears meets Enter the Dragon with a touch of The Magnificent Seven.  (i.e. a dozen former Shaolin monks are reunited to form an underdog soccer squad that uses kungfu to defeat evil--and demonstrate the eternal truth that the good guy always wins, just as long as he is more determined and violent than the bad guy.)

Despite being thin on narrative inventiveness and intelligence, Shaolin Soccer reaches new depths of Chowian silliness, and is indeed a must-see. The  combination of Chow's anything-goes brand of humor with dazzling computer animation and Crouching Tiger-style wirework makes this one of the most entertaining Hong Kong movies in recent memory. In addition to outrageously over-the-top football action, Shaolin is loaded with spoofs of other films, notably Bruce Lee's oeuvre and even a nod to Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach sequence. But the most brilliant aspect of Chow's script is that whether you're agnostic or fanatical about kung fu and sports movies, the film's mocking respect of both genres offers something for everyone.

(Cityweekend January 15, 2003)

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