Shaolin Soccer (2001) Movie Review

Computer effects have become a bane for many filmmakers. So many movies are so CGI-reliant these days that the movie themselves have lost any sense of personality. One effects-laden movie has begun to look like the next, with story serving only as an excuse to move onto the next sfx sequence. Recent movies like Tsui Hark’s “Legend of Zu” and “The Storm Riders” are prime examples, although they’re not the worst of the lot by any means.

For those bad seeds, you’ll have to look to “Avenging Fist” and “The Duel”, two films that will surely convince the Hong Kong film industry to temper their reliance on CGI in the future.

“Shaolin Soccer” shouldn’t be any different from the recent slew of Hong Kong-produced movies that employs Western CGI with Eastern mythology, but it is. Since the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, its effects — as cheesy and obvious as they are — don’t take away from the movie. Who didn’t know that 90% of the soccer balls being kicked around or buzzing about the screen like UFOs were all CGI effects? Many of the soccer stunts were also obviously computer-enhanced, but this doesn’t really matter in the context of the movie’s world, which has its tongue firmly in cheek

Stephen Chow is one of the brains behind “Shaolin Soccer”, serving as co-writer, co-director, and star. The movie’s premise involves Sing (Chow), a Shaolin student, who seeks to broaden the Shaolin appeal to a world that no longer cares. To achieve this end, Sing is determined to win a soccer tournament using a rag-tag group of soccer players — essentially miscreants and losers — and training them using Shaolin martial arts.

Of course, as all Sports Movie dictates, every single one of Sing’s recruits has their own personal quirks, not to mention very personal problems. Knowing this, I hope it’s not a shock to learn that the final Act involves The Big Game.

If it’s not yet obvious, “Shaolin Soccer” is one big clich’. The only real difference between this movie and say, the British film “Mean Machine” (which was also about soccer), is the mixing of Shaolin martial arts with the sport, with combustible results.

Of course calling what the characters do “martial arts” is a bit misleading, since the film is all about comedy, and as such gravity gets defied and all manner of impossibilities become all-too possible. And by the time the Big Game comes around, I’m not even sure if any character even physically kicks the balls anymore.

“Shaolin Soccer” is played entirely for laughs, and there are winks and nods in-between semi-serious scenes to remind us of this fact. As he did with “Forbidden City Cop”, Chow parodies the Sports Movie genre while at the same time using all of its conventions. At the same time “Soccer” is giving out familiar signals, it keeps our attention with ballsy comedy.

Stephen Chow (director)
CAST: Stephen Chow …. Sing
Vicki Zhao …. Mui

Buy Shaolin Soccer on DVD