Shaolin kung fu is a lost art that has been practiced for millennium. Once forgotten masters of the sport now live in the slums with the rest of society, reliving the golden moments of their glory days like a past lifetime, soon to be forgotten as the world walk on by.
Inspired by Captain Tsubasa, a hit manga of the 1980s, Shaolin Soccer (2001) directed by Stephen Chow is a nonstop action adventure sports movie that pushes the boundaries between comical fun and game. Set in modern China, the main character, nicknamed the “Mighty Steel Leg” Sing, is a struggling homeless man whose attempt to impress passerby’s with his kung fu skills are all but ignored. One day he has a chance encounter with “Golden Leg”, who little does he know is a failed kung fu soccer champion from long ago. Dressed in rags with a stumped toe on a limb, Golden Leg seeks redemption for the betrayal by his former teammate who now run a drug abusing, money grabbing soccer team of his own, the “Team Evil” of all evil teams.
Joined by Iron Head, a man who can shatter glass by his head alone, Hooking Leg, a master manipulator of the human body, Light Weight Vest the human heavyweight, Iron Shirt with his abs of steel, and Bruce Lee’s twin brother, Lightning Hand; the once reigning champions of the past will unite to compete once again.
Shaolin Soccer is an epic tale of survival and redemption where good will do whatever it takes to defeat said evil. The action is balls to the wall fun with hot boiling feet of rage and earth bending powers from the gods. Soccer players fly into the sky and backflip while they do it, defying all rules of gravity where something as small as a ball is hit in midair with pin point accuracy, then quietly floating a little, cutting every square inch of grass on the way down to earth level before the bad guys watch with their jaw-dropped reactions hitting the dirt. The comedy is littered with head nods to movies like Apocalypse Now, The Matrix, and Jurassic Park, all mix matched and stir fried into a head bobbing, eye spinning style to create one of the most action packed, zany sports games to date that would inspire cartoons like Avatar the Last Airbender to come.
One of the best scenes in the movie takes place early on when the kung fu team meet for the first time. You see the former champions, now senior citizens, approach a roof top overlooking the city in their home made wind swept capes with such confidence that you doubt their abilities of whether or not they will make or break themselves before they can begin practice. They appear nothing like traditional masters from the past, either due to the lack of beards or for budget reasons, which adds much to the subtle comedy of their unlikely heroics. Then during their first match, they are pitted against the neighborhood team of cheaters with wrenches in their pants. And when all hope seems lost at an unlikely turn of events, at the moment when these old men seem to be on the edge of death, you’ll be in for a surprise to see what these old men are capable of with kung fu!
It isn’t the goal of defeating evil that push the story forward; it is the journey that makes everyone the winner. As the saying goes, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may not know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” Stereotypes of the rich and poor are evident in the way things are run, which has less to do with a reflection on society and more for the telling of the hero’s journey that the audience should expect. The movie never slows itself down with details and allow you to enjoy it more than once.
The national pastime of Hong Kong will finally be brought back from the past to influence a new country to come where martial arts knows no bounds. Busy working women will learn to defend themselves against banana peels on the side walk. Construction workers will ease a load off their backs with their new found tricks of the trade. Everybody will have a good time “kung fu fighting”.