You know, we just don’t get enough kung fu soccer fairy tale movies.
At least, I know it now, because this one is such fun I can’t wait to see another. The most successful Hong Kong film ever, this is a very traditional underdog sports team story told in a delightfully untraditional style, with whimsy, fantasy, and heart.
A group of Chinese people spontaneously break into a dance number to the Kool and the Gang song, “Celebrate.” Soccer players fly through the sky and kick the ball the length of the field. A sweet bun maker (that is, a sweet maker of sweetbuns) uses kung fu to mix the flour and gets fired when the buns get sour after her tears fall into the batter. And the hero tells the heroine she is beautiful before her makeover.
Just to make it absolutely clear who is who, on one side we have “Team Evil,” led by Hung, a ruthless mogul who treats his black-clad team with “American drugs” and has set up a special underwater laboratory to perfect their kicking skills. (A nice touch — the underwater scientists wear waterproof lab coats.) And on the other side is a — you guessed it — a ragtag bunch of brothers who have never played soccer before but have this theory about bringing their mastery of Shaolin kung fu to the sport, led by a former soccer superstar once called “Golden Leg” Fung who had 20 years of humiliation working for Team Evil’s owner after his leg was shattered by a hoodlum.
Fung sees Sing (played by writer-director Stephen Chow), who dreams of having the whole world live according to the principles of Shaolin, everyone aligning themselves with the ways of nature. Sing is not making much progress by demonstrating Shaolin and calling out to passers-by on the street. When Fung sees that Sing’s ability to kick trash could make him a great soccer player, Sing realizes that becoming a soccer champion by using the techniques of Shaolin could bring his message to the masses, and he agrees to help Fung start a team. Together, they visit Sing’s brothers to invite them to play. All say no, but all show up. At first, they suffer humiliating defeat. When they register for the big tournament, the owner of Team Evil laughs at them.
But then the games begin. The Shaolin team’s magical leaps and kicks bring them to the final round where they must face Team Evil. When the goalie is injured, who will replace him?
The movie is pure silly fun with such wonderful spirit that even the dumbest jokes and most predictable developments seem brighter. Its visual imagination and effervescent good spirits are pure delight.
Parents should know that the movie has some comic violence and crude humor, including a scene of a man peeing on a wall. There is some action/fantasy violence and characters are wounded. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to “American drugs” (presumably steroids). A character mentions suicide as a response to humiliation. There is a joke about being in love with a married woman. A character removes his pants (off camera) and makes another character wear his underpants on his head to humiliate him.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Sing saw Mui as beautiful even when no one else did. How did he know? What made it possible for the Shaolin team to begin to win? Families should also talk about the way that Sing made Shaolin into a way of life that affected everything he did.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Mighty Ducks, Bend it Like Beckham (some mature material), and Sidekicks. They might like to watch some other sports fantasy movies like The Absent-Minded Professor and It Happens Every Spring and read the classic book The Five Chinese Brothers. They also might like to learn more about Shaolin and soccer.