Cinema Signal:

Illustrating Asia:
Comics, Humor Magazines, and Picture Books

. "Shaolin Soccer" (aka, Siu lam juk kau)

It's being touted as an action comedy with protagonist Stephen Chow the "Jim Carrey of the East" (not by me). But, comedy, even that of the low-brow variety, is not served well with an exaggerated version of Jim Carrey.

National soccer hero Fung (Ng Man-tat), nick-named "Golden Leg" for his signature power, misses a goal and has his legs broken by a mob hired by a scheming rival. Years later he's thrown out of the league where he's been kept employed in menial labor. He comes across Sing (Stephen Chow), a dirt-poor street exhibitionist and can collector who turns out to be a monk trained in martial arts. Sing attained legendary status for his "Mighty Iron Leg." Pandering on the street wouldn't seem to fit the pedigree, but there it is.

His ragged appearance typifies his current life as a genial hustler where his earnings aren't enough for a couple of sweet buns made in a kung fu style of dance by Mui (Vicki Zhao), a lady with long dark hair combed forward in an attempt to mask a face gnarled up by ugly welts. The destitute monk, however, intrigued by the kung fu abilities, sees beneath the grotesque surface to the bun-maker's real attributes of beauty.

When he's confronted by street thugs and bests them with a soccer ball and his Mighty Iron leg, an impressed Fung comes up with the idea of rounding up Sing's fellow martial artists from Shaolin (rhymes with chow-lin) into an unbeatable soccer team.

But, when you start a movie off at warp speed you have nowhere to go for the finale except into greater and greater mock reality. In this realm, kicked soccer balls break down brick walls, morph into fiery comets and create vortices that chew up the field; leaping players defy gravity, catch the uncatcheable and end in supersonic disarray.

Rubbery expressions, choppy bits of action and sight gags that often rely on digitally designed emphasis are Chow's idea of comedy for mature audiences, but the effect is a strain on the patience, if not pathetic. If this film is Hong Kong's highest grosser (which it was when it played there), then it would seem that the product doesn't travel well.

The notion of releasing it in the U.S. seems to be a fishing trip to net Carrey fans while thinking it might capitalize on the success of the breakthrough soccer hit, "Bend it like Beckham" but the kick, it seems to me, is severely misjudged.

For those who aren't grossed out by a crude level of humor, enjoy. For those with no taste for the cartoonish, the childish or the amateurish, you've been warned.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Off base
I disagree with the review
Site Rating: 3

The Critic is judging this film based on American Standards, and more importantly, budgets. This film was made in Hong Kong, where film budgets don't get allotted 100 Million Dollars.

                                                      ~~ Bill 
Editor's note: Yes, the film is being judged by American standards -- that's because it's being distributed in America, reviewed by an American for American readers and audiences. It's also precisely the point made in the review. No, it's not about budget--it's about the gap between cultural concepts of humor. ~~ FC
                                           - - - - - - - - - - - 
Off base
I disagree with the review
Site Rating: 10

Obviously this reviewer is far too high-brow for this type of movie. He should go see things that would be more fulfilling.

                                                      ~~ Peterpiper9 
Editor's note: I should, and I do. Thanks for the suggestion, though, and for the high site rating despite your disagreement! ~~ FC

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Acrobatic shaolin soccer play

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