After a hokey flashback sequence that sets up the rivalry between ex-soccer-players-turned-coaches Hung (Patrick Tse) and Golden Leg Fung (Ng Man Tat), things quickly, umm, kick into high gear. The whipped Hung befriends Shaolin kung fu expert Sing (Stephen Chow, also the film’s director), and together they create a soccer team composed of Sing’s motley gang of outsider friends. Though prone to its fair share of dead-serious melodrama, Shaolin Soccer remains, for the most part, a delirious and hysterical fusion of countless movie genres: the sure-footed Clint Eastwood western, the WWII battlefield drama and the Jerry Lewis comedy of the grotesque. In Sing’s relationship with the deformed Mui (Vicki Zhao), a local market girl who makes steamed bread using Tai Chi kung fu moves, Chow conjures a meet-cute predicated on all sorts of absurdities and mutual embarrassments—he calls her E.T. when she shaves her head, slaps her repeatedly on her scarred face in order to shoo a fly away and she laughs along with Sing’s friends when they ridicule her for her Dynasty-style couture. Shaolin Soccer‘s multimedia madness is so excusable because most of its antics are actually more crude than seamless. A box office phenomenon in its native Hong Kong, the film was picked up for U.S. distribution by Miramax way back in October 2001. Not surprisingly (not to mention ironic, considering this zippy film’s fascination with marketing truth), the studio trimmed the film by a whole 30 minutes for its domestic release. To the studio’s credit, Shaolin Soccer may still hit screens with its original dialogue in tact—either way, you’re best suited checking out the film’s import DVD for the full effect of its madness. The film essentially comes down to an elaborate Chinese ad campaign modeled after—but nonetheless critical of—soulless Hollywood films (the Shaolin team’s rivals inject themselves with a nameless “American medication” before taking to the field in the film’s final Olympic free-for-all). The film wears its self-consciousness on its sleeve and, unlike most Hollywood productions, has no problems acknowledging that it wants your money.
Considering the amount of time Miramax allowed Shaolin Soccer to sit on the shelf before releasing it into theaters, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the video and sound quality on this DVD edition is less than superior. Then again, because the film is such a whacky multimedia experiment, the considerable amount of grain and dirt visible throughout actually plays into that zaniness. The flaws are certainly nothing to get worked up about. On the other hand, it's a pity that Buena Vista Home Entertainment has decided to include both the U.S. version and the original Chinese version of the film on the same disc-the former should have been burned a long time ago.
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