Writer, director, star, stunt person and all-round cinematic visionary, Chow plays Sing, a Shaolin monk and student who wants to bring the life-enhancing benefits of kung fu to the masses. What better way than combining footie and kung fu on the same pitch? Teaming up with a washed-out former-star-player-turned-coach, Chow sets about recruiting old Shaolin pals one by one, Magnificent Seven style, to enter the National Soccer Championship. Needless to say the hapless bunch have hidden talents – and they need them when they come up against the aptly named Evil Team.
Such is the plot, but that’s not what matters. What Shaolin Soccer gives is a breathtaking and anarchic ride through the bonkers but brilliant comedy imagination of Stephen Chow. Sight gags, broad slapstick and special effects are piled on in a mad flurry that initially bemuses then utterly beguiles. And the souped-up soccer sequences, blending outrageous CGI with live action are genuinely exciting.
But Stephen Chow is not just your Eastern slapstick, gross-out comedian. Shaolin Soccer is also chock-full of inventive and sly send-ups on a range of films – from Hong Kong classics A Better Tomorrow and Bruce Lee’s Game of Death to The Matrix and ET. And if you’ve seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or the recent Hero, you’ll know why Shaolin Soccer’s spot-on send-up of gravity-defying kung fu was so successful at the Eastern box office. It’s a testament to Chow’s finely-judged film-making that amidst all of this he even manages to pull off a sweet romantic storyline - the lovely Zhao Wei downplaying herself as a dowdy baker with special powers.
Shaolin Soccer won’t be to everyone’s taste and some of the slapstick violence may go a bit far, but its visual panache, top-notch direction and cross-cultural sense of fun make for one of the year’s most quirky and engaging comedies. And you’ll certainly remember you’ve seen a film by Stephen Chow - comedian, satirist and all-round auteur. Maybe then you’ll want to check out a DVD of his God of Cookery. No, really.