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Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Siu lam juk kau, Shao lin zu qiu (Mandarin title)

Kick some grass!

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 87 minutes

US Certificate: PG UK Certificate: 12a


Twenty years ago, soccer star 'Golden Leg' Fung (Ng Man Tat) made the mistake of his life, deliberately missing an easy penalty kick in exchange for a bribe from fellow player Hung (Patrick Tse Yin), and having his legendary leg smashed in the ensuing crowd riot. Now Fung is a lame has-been, while Hung is a soccer kingpin whose Team Evil seems unbeatable – but when Fung runs into Sing (director/co-writer Stephen Chow), a down-at-heel kung fu enthusiast, he realises that Sing's killer kick and aversion to full body contact makes him a footballing natural. Sing persuades his out-of-shape Shaolin brothers to form a ragtag team with Fung as coach, and soon their renewed sense of confidence and purpose sees them through a series of kinetic victories. Eventually they face Team Evil in the finals – but now that Hung's cheating extends to dosing up his players with performance-enhancing superdrugs, this last match is bound to be explosive. Fortunately shy, not quite love interest Mui (Vicki Zhao) is on hand with her Tai Chi skills to help the Shaolin team beat the odds and achieve its impossible goal.

Sing's dream of popularising Shaolin kung fu with a new, modern form finds perfect fulfilment in 'Shaolin Soccer', which itself blends the ancient fighting discipline with the beautiful game in a hilariously crowd-pleasing hybrid. Exploiting the feel-good familiarity of sports and martial arts clichés (victorious underdogs, cod spiritualism, stylised conflicts, gravity-defying wirework etc.) even as it satirises them, 'Shaolin Soccer' offers the best – and the silliest – of both worlds, and so gets to have its steamed bread and eat it too.

Unlike Sing's flawless footwork, the jokes can be a bit hit-and-miss, but 'Shaolin Soccer' still scores for sheer exuberance and amiability – and in any case, it is the hyperbolic gameplay, more than merely 'enhanced' by CGI, that really brings this film into its own. Players hover in the air, defenders are scattered like nine-pins, goalposts are quite literally moved, balls change direction in mid-flight or even turn into flaming pumas, and entire pitches are transformed by cyclonic kicks into armageddon-like warzones – taking the concept of 'fantasy football' to new extremes. No doubt there are sports pedants who will find themselves echoing the sentiments of one exasperated opponent as he exclaims “Please don't play like this! I really want to play soccer!” – but everyone else will be too busy grinning open-mouthed like monkeys to care very much.

It's Got: On-pitch antics rivalled only by Mui's Tai Chi style of kneading dough; a team of high-flying women with drooping handlebar moustaches; absurdly over-the-top CGI.

It Needs: Laughs that are less hit-and-miss.

DVD Extras Aspect ratio 1.85:1; scene selection; choice of stereo 2.0/Dolby digital 5.1; choice between the international dub (in English) and the original Cantonese version (with optional English subtitles) – note that the latter is a longer cut (105min), featuring additional scenes (passers-by at Muis bakery break into an extravagant song-and-dance number; Fung admires Sings improvised penthouse; Sing and his brothers make fun of a made-up Mui, who then has a fight with her bakery boss; a few extra bits in the final game); Making-of (20min) featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with writer/director/star Stephen Chow ("almost half the budget went on computer effects") and actors Wong Yat-Fei, Vicki Zhao, newcomer Li Hui and Chan Kwok-Kwan; special effects featurette (8min) which breaks down a selection of scenes to show how computer graphics were added or elements superimposed; Out-takes (3min) bloopers and clowning on-set; Shaolin Soccer – the moves – brief but hilarious animated guide (with menu) to the ball-kicking chopsocky moves. Version reviewed: Shaolin Soccer (from Optimum Home Releasing, R2) alternative R1 edition, from DVD Extras Rating: 5/10


A charmingly daft blend of martial arts and football – offbeat, offkilter and, er, offside.