Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Stephen Chow

"Shaolin Soccer" has been a sensation in Hong Kong and now the film makes its way to American audiences on DVD, courtesy of Buena Vista Home Entertainment. While Buena Vista Home Entertainment, like pretty much hall other Hollywood studios, are notorious for butchering these foreign films and violating them in all imaginable ways, this time around, Buena Vista Home Entertainment has decided to remain more faithful to the movie’s original vision by providing both the American theatrical version, as well as the original Chinese version on one DVD. I cannot applaud this step in the right direction enough, though it still begs the question why anyone would feel they have to mess with the original film in the first place. Why does the world need an "American" cut of these films? But anyway…

The movie is an incredibly enjoyable martial arts comedy – very different from essentially anything I’ve seen. Sing (Stephen Chow) is a hapless Shaolin scholar whose foremost intention is to bring Shaolin Kung fu to the masses. To make it attractive for everyone, as he thinks it would bring out the best in everyone. After various unsuccessful attempts he meets Fung (Man Tat Ng) a former soccer superstar. Known as "Golden Legs," Fung has been crippled after accepting money to miss a penalty shot in an important game by his opponents, the Team Evil. Seeking revenge, Fung sees a lot of potential in "Steel Legs" Sing and together with Sing’s former Shaolin brethren they plan to defeat every team in the national soccer league as team "Shaolin Soccer" by combining their Kung Fu skills with their non-existent ball-playing talents. It’s a recipe for disaster, hilarity and a high-flying climax.

"Shaolin Soccer" is thoroughly funny. It is never superficial or stilted as all the comedy elements just flow nicely into the film, creating one giggle and laugh after the other. The movie is full of special effects as well, and director/writer/actor Stephen Chow knew exactly how to work them. Instead of trying to create super-realistic effects, he went for an extreme comic book approach that lets people hop around like cartoon characters or gives them incredible abilities that are so exaggerated that they become truly funny. All of it based on traditional Martial Arts lore, however, combined with a new age feel and a love for cinema that leaps of f the screen. It is probably the funniest film I have ever seen come out of Hong Kong which means a lot since Hong Kong Cinema has an innate sense of humor even in its most serious films.

The story of the empowered underdogs is also well paced and acted, creating a range of lovable characters, each of which is used to best comic effect as part of the overall plot, and it makes me hope that Stephen Chow will bring us more films of this tradition.

As I pointed out before, Buena Vista Home Entertainment is including their mutilated-by-25 minutes American version of the film as well as the original 112-minute version of the film. Both versions offer a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> presentation of the film with a picture that is clean and clear throughout without notable blemishes. Slight grain is evident on occasion but it’s never distracting in any form. Colors are vibrant and rich without bleeding or oversaturation. The image has solid black levels, which firmly root the picture and create deep shadows that never break up. No distracting edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is also without flaws.

The original Cantonese audio track is part of this release in <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> for the both versions of the film, as well as an English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital dub for the American version. The audio is unspectacular and even though it makes good use of the surround channels, the track is never overly aggressive. Frequency response is good and the dynamic range of the track is also good and reproduces all nuances in volume without problems.

The release does not include any extras at all, not even the movie’s trailer.

"Shaolin Soccer" is a hilarious film that is sincere and has been put together extremely well. The presentation of the movie on this DVD is definitely living up to expectations, though I don’t think anyone really cares for the mutilated American version. It may have been a better idea to use the space it required for a few extras.

If you’re a fan of martial arts movies and if you are looking for a good laugh, "Shaolin Soccer" is your ticket. It is by far one of the most inspired comedies I’ve seen in quite a while.