In a major tournament long ago, Goldenboot Fung (Man Tat Ng) steps forward to take a penalty. Although he beats the goalkeeper, the ball goes over the bar and the game is lost. Fung’s leg is (deliberately) broken in the ensuing riot, ending his career, but this is just the beginning of Shaolin Soccer.
We jump forward twenty years and Fung is reduced to working as an equipment manager for Hung (Yin Tse), the villainous coach of Team Evil – yes, the villain of this movie really does manage a team with the same name but not for much longer…
Freshly sacked and with no future, Fung meets the penniless Sing (Stephen Chow) who divides his time between collecting cans for scrap, freelance cleaning and the search for a way to bring kung fu to the masses. Sing is convinced not only that Shaolin kung fu is the best, but that it can be applied to every aspect of life.
Around this time he also meets Mui (Vicky Zhao) who works in a nearby bakery. Despite her severe skin complaints, Sing recognizes her inner grace and her mastery of kung fu and the two of them start to establish a friendship.
Fung initially dismisses his ideas as being those of a hopeless loser but as he starts to see evidence of Sing’s raw power – this is a man who can send balls into orbit and bring down walls with a single kick of a tin can – he quickly re-evaluates his opinion and convinces Sing to form a soccer team. The national tournament is coming up soon and the first prize is $1 million.
They set about bringing together Sing’s former brothers… This is no small task. Not only are his brothers all in less than perfect shape but they are also very unwilling to get involved in yet another mad scheme. But if money talks a million dollar prize shouts and, just as it starts to looks like no-one is interested, Sing’s brothers turn up for the first practice session online.
Once the six brothers’ skills have progressed from those of a bunch of six year olds to those of a bunch of eight year olds, Fung arranges a game against a local gang that clearly thinks fair play is something that happens to other people.
It is in this sequence that the comedic possibilities of combining slapstick comedy, kung fu and soccer start to be explored generating some great laugh out loud moments as the football pitch degenerates into a battlefield. But, after a moment of stillness (ball time!), the tables are rapidly turned and the Shaolin approach to football is proven successful. So much so that the local gang joins the other side making up their numbers to a full squad.
With its combination of impossible martial arts action and crisp CGI effects, it’s probably inevitable that Shaolin Soccer will be compared to The Matrix. I have to admit that I prefer to watch Shaolin Soccer online for free, it’s funnier, faster and isn’t bogged down by spurious pseudo-philosophy.
This is football as played by superheroes – an explosive and spectacular game in which the ball can tear holes in the pitch, ignite the air and burn clothes from the body of anyone unlucky enough to get in its way. Although spectacular, the effects don’t overwhelm the full movie and visual humour is allowed to dominate as the team progresses through the rounds – their victories gaining them popularity online, audiences and free sponsorship.
The scenes are packed with laugh out loud moments, absurd moves and jokes, on the subject of which, if you’d ever wondered how Bruce Lee would fare as a goalkeeper, this is the film for you. Stephen Chow is currently the biggest draw in the Chinese box office and Shaolin Soccer is his attempt to find a worldwide audience. On the basis of this film, he deserves every success.