What makes a successful soccer team? Experience? Multi-million-dollar investment? David Beckham in midfield? How about Shaolin Kung Fu?
Stephen Chow (also director and co-writer) plays the lead role of “Mighty Steel Leg” Sing, a former Shaolin monk who along with his brothers, make up “Team Shaolin”. Their coach “Golden Leg” Fung, played by Ng Man-tat, is a former star of the game, and after suffering a career ending injury at the hands of his former teammate Hung, played by Patrick Tse, they’ve been bitter enemies ever since.
Sing’s purpose in life is to re-introduce to the modern world the ancient art of Shaolin Kung Fu. However, after failed attempts at promoting his art, a chance encounter with Fung leads the pair to form an alliance, as Fung offers soccer as an answer to his problems. Without doubt, Sing agrees and sets off to scout his now disbanded Shaolin brothers, to assemble the greatest soccer team of all time -Team Shaolin!
Their inaugural match is against a band of thugs, and it isn’t too long into the game before all hope for Team Shaolin is lost… almost. They suffer a beating at the hands of these unsavoury characters, but they soon re-discover their kung fu abilities and begin to exploit the rough playing style of their opponents with ease. So impressive are Team Shaolin that their opponents beg to join them once the game finishes.
A million-dollar prize soccer tournament in Hong Kong, beckons Team Shaolin. Promises of fame for their Shaolin skills, and a chance to get even for their coach Fung, as Team Evil (coached by Fung’s arch enemy Hung) also participate. Team Shaolin rack up victory after victory in the opening rounds, showing off impressive Kung Fu feats along the way. That’s until they meet Team Evil in the final of the tournament. Hung’s team is made up of cheating soccer players, who have taken superhuman performance enhancing drugs, to eliminate their competition and ensure they get through to the final.
Shaolin Soccer carries enough CGI and physics defying effects, making even “The Matrix” look pretty realistic by comparison. That plus the slapstick comedy and what you have is signature Stephen Chow action.
How we are introduced to Stephen Chow’s world is rather subtle at first. Our first bite of Kung Fu action comes from a confrontation between “Mighty Steel Leg” Sing, and a gang of street thugs. What starts off as a one-by-one disposal of these attackers, soon turns to humiliation as Sing throws kicks that don’t connect with his opponents, but rather causes the effects of a wind tunnel due to the speed at which he throws his roundhouses. Before long, Sing is pulling off unbelievable soccer kicks with a ball to dispose of his enemies.
But hey, this film is called “Shaolin Soccer” for a reason -we expect to see a team of Shaolin players dominating a simple game of soccer. But when Team Shaolin first take to the field, we don’t see things unfold as we expect them to. In their inaugural match against a band of thugs, they suffer a beating to begin with. But, before the game ends they re-discover their Kung Fu abilities and begin to exploit the rough playing style of their opponents with ease.
Every player in Team Shaolin, finds their own comical superpower ability – including “Iron Shirt”, who can turn the soccer ball into a missile-like projectile, using only his stomach muscles. “Iron Head”, who uses his powerful Kung Fu head-butt to head the ball. “Hooking Leg”, who specializes in ground-tumbling boxing, can tackle opponents with ease. “Light Weight Vest”, (ironically the largest member of the team) has nothing light about him yet can perform acrobatic feats that make him look as light as a feather; Sammo Hung on steroids? Lest we forget, the homage to Bruce Lee as goalie -sporting a Game of Death jumpsuit, hairstyle, giant movie lens glasses, and lightning hand speed!
By far the most impressive action comes in the final showdown between Team Evil and Team Shaolin. Until this point, every opposing team found themselves utterly (sometimes literally) torn to pieces by Team Shaolin. However, with the reputation of Team Evil, the final showdown doesn’t prove to be such a walk in the park. With almost evenly matched powers on the soccer field, this game comes down to the goal keepers, and unfortunately for Team Shaolin, Evil’s goal keeper is (almost) unstoppable.
Some image of a soccer ball struck with so much force, that it breaks through the goal net, is nothing to write home about. But when it ends up destroying half the stadium, you know you’re watching something off the planet!
It’s hard in some ways to do this film justice. It’s no “Bloodsport”, or “Enter the Dragon”. Shaolin Soccer isn’t trying to be that kind of film. With team names like “Team Evil” and slapstick comedy throughout, at a glance a lot of people might never give this film a chance. However, no word describes this film better than “fun”. Comedies are relatively infrequent in the martial arts genre and with such impressive direction from Stephen Chow, you soon realise why this is one of the most successful films to ever come out of Hong Kong.
- Stephen Chow said he was inspired by the animated series Captain Tsubasa (1983).
- In the Italian version, the main characters are dubbed by professional soccer players: Damiano Tommasi, Vincent Candela, Marco Delvecchio, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Giuseppe Pancaro, and Angelo Peruzzi).
- Shaolin Soccer was the first Hong Kong movie to ever cross the HK$ 60 million (HK$60,739,847) mark at the Hong Kong box office.