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DVD Review: Shaolin Soccer

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It has finally landed. Shaolin Soccer has been released on DVD, and fortunately includes the original version in addiion to the sub-standard English cut. What Miramax did to this, and other Asian films, was to edit out 23 minutes of the movie, dub it into English and change the music. I was all set to rip this disk apart, as the track record seems to be to not include the original cut, much less the original language. OK, enough of that, let’s talk about the movie.

One thing this film has to overcome is the hype that was surrounding it. For those who track film releases and are into foreign cinema have invariable heard about this movie, and due to its storied history of near release, have unfairly increased expectations. These expectations have a way of crashing down when you finally get to see it. It happened with the Matrix sequels, remember the huge build up followed by the letdown? It’s not as drastic with Shaolin Soccer, but it is there, and I have noticed it on various forums.

Anyway, the film is about Sing, a poor master of Shaolin kung fu, who is looking to repackage kung fu and make it popular to study again. His amazing kicking ability is noticed by Golden Leg, a former soccer star who was crippled in a game 20 years earlier. Together they team up, along with Sing’s former Shaolin brothers, to enter a tournament to take on Team Evil, coached by Hung, the man responsible for Golden Leg’s injury. There is a lot of fun along the way as this team of out of shape kung fu masters must band together as a team. There is also a subplot featuring Sing’s budding romance with a shy girl who makes steamed buns, using tai chi techniques.

If and when you watch this, the only way to go is with the original version. I had seen the movie previously on my imported disk, but it’s been awhile since I watched it. I started the evening off with the English cut. What a mistake that was. The pacing was off, it was pretty easy to tell that stuff was missing. Since it had been so long since I had watched the movie, I could not immediately point out what was missing, although the relationship between Sing and Mui seemed to be off, there wasn’t nearly enough interaction between them. Then I watched the original version, and it just opened up a whole new world. The opening flashback is longer, giving a stronger basis for the Hung/Golden Leg rivalry. There are also longer segments around many of the jokes and physical gags which only serve to make them funnier, when they are cut, as in the English version. Most importantly, there is a lot more depth to the Sing/Mui relationship which doesn’t seem to develop in the English version. The one thing I can say about the English version is that the dub was not that bad, I am not condoning it, but I have heard/seen much worse. One thing to remember is the dance sequence early on, was originally set to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, although in the English cut they use “Celebrate,” and the Original cut uses some non-descript techno music. I am guessing that there were some rights issues that they could not get over.

Stephen Chow stars as Sing, in addition to being the director and co-writer. Chow is a veteran actor with over 50 movies under his belt, including 6 in the director’s chair. He has been compared to Jim Carrey, although the only comparison would be their ability for physical comedy. He brings a lot of heart to the project. He surrounds himself with an excellent ensemble cast. Among them is Vicki Zhao, who plays Mui and proves she isn’t scared to cover her good looks in some rather unflattering makeup, not too mention bringing depth to the shy tai chi master.

This is one of the best sports related films I’ve ever seen. It features some great over-the-top CG enhanced soccer matches with colorful characters and a lot of energy. I can’t recommend this movie enough, although it is not for everybody (my dad hated it). Worth at least a rental.

Video. The film is presented in it’s OAR of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The picture quality is very good, much better than the import (legal) that I have. It is worth it for the transfer.

Audio. Audio quality is good. The original features the original Cantonese track, the English cut features the English dub as well as the French dub, and the original Cantonese.

Extras. There are none, although I think Miramax would consider the original cut to be an extra.

Bottomline. Great movie, great transfer. This movie is a lot of fun, high energy, good use of effects. A wonderful showcase for Chow’s ability. I can only hope that more of his films come over here.
Highly Recommended.

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  • What I loved was the exceptional (for Asian films) attention to detail in the special effects. When something slams into the ground, it shakes, the wind blows, you hear the rumble and there’s a crater. Somebody, somewhere, in the production crew understands physics!

    And the film’s loopiness is charming as all hell. The heart of this movie is very sweet. The inevitable Hollywood remake would ditch that, more’s the pity.

    BTW, Zhang Yimou’s Hero is coming into theaters real soon. I saw the original cut and was totally blown away. One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. He literally paints his canvas with some of the richest colors you’ll ever see. Anyone know how badly this has been cut up for American release?

  • It was very charming, and you’re right about the effects, it helped to add weight and substance to them.

    Hero is being released uncut, it is the same version that was released in HK and what is on DVD as well. I have the original cut, plus that ext. cut that came out, haven’t watched that one yet. It is an incredible movie, and I cherish the opportunity to see it in a theater, uncut. I also heard that QT helped bring it in uncut.