Monday, May 24, 2004

Shaolin Soccer

I just saw this today. I'm gonna rewatch it tomorrow and then post a full-on DVD Review, but I just wanted to rave about this movie tonight! You can find it at DVD Freaks at Madison and McLean. I saw the unedited, Chinese language, 2 hour original cut. Miramax is supposed to be releasing a 90 minute, probably dubbed, faster paced version some time this summer. Go see it!

Shaolin Soccer is the story of a young man who wants to get the word out about Shaolin kung fu. He runs into a lame soccer coach who was once known as "Golden Leg" for his soccer prowess. Together, they get the idea for "Shaolin soccer." The young man recruits all his brothers -- the most unlikely crew you ever saw: Iron Head, Hook Leg, Lazy Pig, etc. -- and they're off.

This movie has goofiness and charm to burn. The opening is pretty slow, though it has a lot of comic moments, but about 30 or 45 minutes in the plot (such as it is) kicks in. Once the soccer playing starts, though, you'll be falling over laughing.

Even as Chinese movies go, SS has the most basic of narratives and characters. It's more of an outline for a script than a fully realised movie. But the acting of Stephen Chow, who also directed, and the rest of the cast helps to sell the outlandish soccer playing.

The special effects are awesome, truly spectacular. Soccer balls kicked so hard they catch fire, or leave craters in concrete walls. Characters have their clothes knocked off from the force and leap across the field, or above it, with acrobatic glee. Sure, it is totally unbelievable, but so well done you can only love it. The folks who did the special effects were excellent; ultrasonic soccer balls leave craters, trenches, bruises, knock down walls, etc. People don't just hit the ground, but burrow into it. Superior attention to detail really adds to the film's flavor.

The heart of the movie is pure gold, as are the heroes, and it makes the movie shine despite the enormous plot holes and thin characterisations.

Last thing is that the DVD Freaks version is from an overseas distributor. There are no extras, and the subtitles were done by someone with only a passing knowledge of English. I'll have to copy some of the howlers and head-scratchers as they are priceless. But in a fast, dialogue-heavy movie, it can slow things down. But not much. This is not a difficult movie to figure out or keep up with, believe me. I've read that some folks just turn off the subtitles and watch the Mandarin-language version itself.

There are too many big problems for this to be a great film, but it is genius. It is great goofy fun. The climactic final match against the Evil Team (that's their name!) is mindblowing. Highly recommended to the willing; less so for those not already familiar with Asian cinema.

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