I can just imagine how one day, this strange idea suddenly crossed filmmaker Stephen Chow’s mind: what would happen if I combine martial arts and soccer to make a ‘sports movie’? He must have thought it was a good idea, and went on to realise it. And he was absolutely right. The result was Shaolin Soccer, one of the funniest and most original films ever made, in Hong Kong and in fact anywhere in the world.
Shaolin Soccer tells the story of Sing (Stephen Chow), a martial arts expert who specialises in powerful kicks. He works as a garbage collector, but is constantly thinking of ways to develop and promote Shaolin kung fu and its true spirit. Some of his ideas, like singing and dancing about kung fu, are simply absurd and destined to fail. Yet, Sing keeps on trying and never gives up on his dream. Then one day, with the help of former soccer star Fung (Man-Tat Ng), Sing forms a soccer team with his fellow students from Shaolin. Together, they share one common goal: winning the National Soccer Tournament. It’s not likely to be easy however, as strong opposition awaits them on the soccer field…
The key characters in the movie are a bit of a strange bunch. Having all trained under the same master at the Shaolin Temple, where all martial arts are supposed to have originated, each of them has a special skill. As a result, they all have something different to contribute as members of a soccer team. This theme of teamwork comes through very strongly in the movie, and represents a change from Chow’s previous work, where he would generally feature in the funny scenes and draw most of the laughs. As the director and screenwriter of the movie though, it seems that his intention is to share the screen time among his cast.
As the title suggests, martial arts feature strongly in Shaolin Soccer. Chow gets ample opportunities to show off his skills, both in brawls and soccer matches. And while he did show his kung fu in quite a few of his previous films, this would only be seen in a few scenes at the most. What is obvious is Chow’s intention to pay tribute to Bruce Lee, his lifetime idol, in this film. Kwok-Kwan Chan, who plays the character of Lightning Hands, has a close resemblance in appearance to the late kung fu legend. His final scene, with the yellow tracksuit and big sunglasses, should remind many viewers of Bruce Lee.
Special effects are used in abundance in this movie, and Chow isn’t hiding the fact that CG is being used; so don’t expect seamless effects that look just like they’re real. The rather obvious CG effects actually add to the charm, and fit in perfectly with the style of the movie: comic-like, light-hearted and not taking itself too seriously.
Shaolin Soccer is a special film in the career of Chow, who dominated the Hong Kong box office with ease in the early 1990’s, but made consecutive films that were less successful towards the end of that decade. Then he literally ‘disappeared’ from the spotlight in Hong Kong while he filmed his dream project – this very film. As the co-director, co-screenwriter and lead actor, it was a movie that truly belonged to him. It would provide a chance for him to prove that he could still ignite the box office. And what a success it turned out to be, winning film awards, smashing box office records and eventually becoming the highest grossing local production in Hong Kong cinema history (until the record was broken again with his next film, the equally impressive Kung Fu Hustle).
I think Stephen Chow is a genius, and those of you who have seen Shaolin Soccer will probably agree with me. For the readers who haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favour: track down a copy and check it out for yourself. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and as far as entertainment goes, this is hard to top. And finally, just a little advice: avoid the English dubbed version; Shaolin Soccer is a film that has to be watched in the original format to be fully enjoyed.