A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 205 – Shaolin Soccer

Shaolin Soccer – September 21st, 2010

We are endeavoring to watch more of our subtitled movies so we don’t end up with a backlog at the end, so last night we pulled what we thought was a subtitled movie. Alas! It was dubbed! So tonight we’re making up for that with an actually really real subtitled movie. I just wish it had been fully subtitled. Oh, the movie itself is fine, but then at the end they show some bloopers before the closing credits, and while it’s easy to tell what’s funny when Stephen Chow starts corpsing, some of the others really do require one to understand what’s being said. Oh well. Can’t have everything. Even if this movie does try valiantly to do just that.

This isn’t a movie that hides its intentions. It’s pretty obvious from the outset what’s going to have to happen. We start with star soccer player Golden Leg Fung being paid off by rival Hung to miss a crucial kick, ending Fung’s career and leading to Hung becoming the coach of Team Evil. Yes, you read that right. Team Evil. Having a Team Evil in the movie is like having a Victor Von Doom, only more obvious and no one’s handing any government secrets over to Team Evil. Just soccer championships. Team Evil is Chekhov’s Gun here. You can’t introduce a Team Evil without guaranteeing that the plucky misfit team that the rest of the movie spends building will eventually face them in a climactic soccer battle. It’s required, and the movie gladly delivers.

But first we need the plucky misfit team, and plucky misfits they most certainly are. The team starts with a chance meeting between Fung and a young man named Sing, also known as the Mighty Steel Leg. He’s a kung fu master who wants to bring the wonders of kung fu to the masses, but the masses don’t seem to give a shit. Which is a pity, cause the way the movie showcases kung fu, it’s totally fucking awesome. You can punch your car into a parking spot! Cut giant words into the walls of buildings while flying! Go faster than a speeding bullet and be more powerful than a locomotive! Okay, not those last two explicitly, but it’s implied through a series of exaggerated examples that yes, you would definitely be super duper if only you too knew kung fu. Fung’s all about getting a team together to challenge his old nemesis and Team Evil, and together he and Sing recruit Sing’s brothers – all kung fu masters with their own specialized moves – and some local hooligans and practice being awesome.

There’s Iron Head (first brother – also a janitor at a karaoke bar), Hooking Leg (second brother – a dishwasher), Iron Shirt (third brother – a harried business man), Lightning Hands (fourth brother – unemployed) and Light Weight (smallest brother – stockboy in a grocery store). One by one they show up to join the team and regain their lost faith in Shaolin kung fu. There’s hints at a backstory involving their father making them learn kung fu and their kung fu master dying, but it doesn’t matter much. Who cares about backstory when we have wirework and bullet time?

The movie is full of over the top special effects with the team doing things like kicking soccer balls so high they take an hour to come back down, flying fifty feet in the air to make a shot and goalies stopping balls that move so fast they create vortices. Iron Shirt can catch a ball with his stomach and hold it there, spinning, before launching it out again. Hooking Leg resembles a sort of super human breaker and now I want to see a soccer ball incorporated into a breaking routine on So You Think You Can Dance. Once the team is put together and they’re in the championship they face teams like Team Mustache, who all seem to be women with fake facial hair and some super sweet aerial moves. And of course Team Evil, who get their very own black smoke effect. It’s all really a showcase of wild moves and exaggerated facial expressions.

And then there’s Mui. She works at a sweet bun stand, using tai chi to make the best sweet buns ever. There is, of course, a love story between Mui and Sing and it’s silly and over the top just like the rest of the movie is. And I’d count it as a B plot except Mui ends up being super important. I don’t think it’s really spoiling things to say she saves the day because when you get down to the end of the movie and things look dire (of course they look dire – plucky misfits against Team Evil, remember?) there’s really only two choices for who’ll step in and help the team. And I’d rather it was Mui than Fung, cause Mui totally deserves a moment to shine and I can’t help but like that the team needed a slightly different way of moving in order to save them. Team Evil relies on brute force and the Shaolin team does too. Mui doesn’t, so she kicks ass.

There are a lot of bizarre non sequiturs and it’s not like any particular plot point is unexpected. It’s a ridiculous movie, from Iron Head’s constant smoking – even on the field – to the fact that there’s a Team Evil. It’s got a love story that should feel wedged in but doesn’t and there’s no backstory for the majority of the characters but it ends up not mattering. It’s all just so silly, but it’s also all just plain fun. I hesitate to use the word ‘wacky’, but it kind of fits here. In a good way. This is a movie that just wants to be amusing and cheerful and it succeeds admirably.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shaolin Soccer

September 21, 2010

Shaolin Soccer

Since yesterday’s movie inexplicably turned out not to be subtitled we turned to a movie for tonight that we knew to be subtitled. I hadn’t seen this since it came out on DVD, but I remembered thinking that it was fun and cheesy. I was right.

Man Tat Ng is Fung, a disgraced former soccer star who was savagely beaten and crippled after he allowed himself to be paid to take a dive in a championship game twenty years ago. After twenty years of fawning to the man who convinced him to throw the game he is finally fired by the evil coach Hung. Stephen Chow plays Sing, a Shaolin master and wastrel who dreams of bringing the benefits of Shaolin to the masses. Sing believes that if he can just popularise Shaolin and bring it into the public consciousness he can make the world a better place. Sadly, however, his attempts have been futile. He tries, with disastrous results, to blend Shaolin and singing. He tries to live as a pacifist kung-fu master in an uncaring modern world. But it isn’t until Fung witnesses Sing as he defeats an entire gang of hoodlums using only a soccer ball that they strike upon the idea of blending Shaolin and soccer.

The two of them set out to find Sing’s brothers who trained in Shaolin with him when he was a boy. Each of them has a different speciality of mastery in the Shaolin arts. There’s Sing with his “Steel Leg,” and his brothers are “Iron Head,” “Iron Shirt,” “Light Weight,” “Lightning Hands,” and “Hook Leg.” Of course all of the brothers have lives of their own and don’t want Sing riling them up with mad notions of regaining their Sholin skills, but eventually he is able to win them over, and Fung is able to whip them into shape as a mighty soccer team. The question is, will it be enough for them to defeat coach Hung and his aptly named “Team Evil?”

There’s also a side plot involving Sing’s obsession with a shy dumpling-maker named Mui, who uses her mastery of Shaolin to make the most delicious sweet buns ever made. Mui acts as his inspiration in his quest to bring Shaolin to the people, and through him she is able to eventually stand up for herself and grow a spine. Ultimately they sort of save each other.

The whole movie is extremely tongue in cheek and played for laughs. It has a boisterous and very silly sense of humor. Very much in the vein of Jackie Chan’s work. Sort of a Drunken Soccer Master. But the film also boasts an absolutely awe-inspiring collection of fantastic digital effects and complex wire-work and stunts. Everything has a magical cartoon feel to it, somewhat like an anime come to life. In the soccer matches they don’t simply kick the ball, they spin and leap and the ball arcs about crazily, bursting into flame and tearing up the turf in its wake.

The final inevitable match between the Shaolin team and Team Evil is as much fun as any complex martial-arts battle ever was. (Team Evil has resorted to the nefarious use of underhanded American performance enhancing drugs to bring themselves to such a level that they threaten to beat our heroes into the ground.)

This movie is a wonderful juxtaposition of things that shouldn’t work together but do. It has broad slapstick humor, some tenderness, an honest heart, and a whole lot of kickass special effects. All mixed up together in a blender. It’s crazy, madcap, exciting and thrilling all in one. I had a lot of fun watching it again.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment