I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again; Americans should watch more foreign films. I still think most Americans are scared off by having to put forth the effort to read subtitles. Get over yourself and watch a good foreign film! I suggest seeing Shaolin Soccer (2001). Shaolin Soccer is the top-grossing action comedy in Hong Kong history, and was a big hit in 2002 Toronto film festival. And with good reason; it’s hysterical! Stephen Chow co-wrote, directed, and stars in this movie that blend of sports, action, and humor.
Sing (Stephen Chow) is a modern-day Shaolin monk who is a master of traditional fighting skills. He’s renowned for his “leg of steel” techniques. But there just isn’t much need for a Shaolin warrior these days. He and his fellow monks earn their keep working menial jobs. One day Sing meets an old, washed-out soccer player, Fung (Ng Man Tat), with a desire to coach a soccer team that will win the championship. The two decide to combine Fung’s soccer knowledge with Sing’s Kung Fu expertise and take on the Hong Kong open cup competition. They gather Sing’s fellow Shaolin brothers, each with their own martial arts technique, and form Team Shaolin. Sing meets a nice young lady named Mui (Vicki Zhao), a baker with severe acne who uses T’ai Chi to make steamed sweet buns. Sing tries to help her gain confidence and come out of her shell. As Team Shaolin climbs the tournament roster they draw ever closer to facing Team Evil which is owned by the malicious Hung (Patrick Tse).
This movie is just hilarious. It’s rife with slapstick nonsense, goofy situations, ridiculous action reminiscent of anime shows like Dragonball Z, and some ironic use of melodrama that parodies old Kung Fu films. Shaolin Soccer is silly, but it’s a high-quality silly that I don’t see in comedy movies very often.
The story is simple and easy to follow. It’s even predictable here and there. As soon as you see the pizza-faced Mui, you know she’ll be a stunning beauty before the end of the film. The role she ultimately plays in the overall story isn’t anticipated, though. It’s also unexpected that Sing manages to get seven soccer players from his former monastic order to form a team. The movie’s opening scene involves a young Fung in his prime as a soccer hero getting his leg broken by Hung. Hung now rules the soccer world and owns Team Evil (that right, Team Evil). We know Fung is going to teach Hung a lesson, we know Team Shaolin is going to face Team Evil, and we know that Sing will get a chance to show the world how useful Kung Fu is. But we get to those points in unpredictable ways.
I’m not a sports person, but even I know these aren’t the actual rules for soccer. The silly humor and action is what’s driving the movie, not the sports drama. Players leap high into the air, performing impossible acrobatic stunts before kicking the ball. It reminded me more of the Quidditch games Harry Potter plays than it did soccer. Thanks to their martial arts training the ball is kicked so hard it catches fire as it flies through the air, sometimes digging grooves in the ground as it goes. It’s a whole lot like superheroes trying to play a game of soccer and causing the whole thing to get way out of hand. It’s not realistic at all, but the movie isn’t taking itself so seriously that this mockery of Newtonian physics ends up being entertaining rather than distracting or annoying.
Foreign comedies don’t always do well in other countries since humor is usually specific to the culture it came from; some comedy nuance gets lost in translation. Not so in Shaolin Soccer. It is full of surprises; from a ridiculous musical number, to the team of female soccer players trying to pose as men simply by wearing obviously fake Snidely Whiplash-style moustaches. Even with a few crude jokes thrown in, I think it’s probably safe for audience’s age eight and up. The humor is comical and unrelenting, and the action is ridiculous and fun. Of course I highly recommend seeing it in its original Chinese with English subtitles, but an English dubbed version is also available on the DVD for viewers who aren’t able to read as quickly. If you enjoy over the top physical comedy, you’ll love Shaolin Soccer. I recommend seeing it at least once. It’s worth owning if this is your style of humor.
Have you seen a really good foreign comedy? What was it and what made it so funny? Comment below and tell me all about it!