Shaolin Soccer Review
Stephen Chow Sing Chi's Shaolin Soccer wowed Asian cinema audiences upon its release in 2001 and quickly made it onto DVD in the same year, selling incredibly well overseas and turning it into one of the most talked about movies of that and subsequent years. When Miramax announced that they had acquired the US distribution rights and would re-dub and score the feature, fans immediately stood their ground and voiced their distaste. The release was up in the air for a while and as Miramax struggled to put it out most fans had already purchased the existing HK disc. It was with great pressure resulting from fan petitions and word of mouth that Miramax finally decided to release both versions of the film (though their version of the story may well differ): The dubbed American theatrical release and the original uncut Cantonese version. I shall take you through both later on in the review - for now, onto the story...
Sing (Stephen Chow) is an out of luck Shaolin martial artist, who wanders the streets collecting cans to sell in order to make a living. Many years ago his specialty was "The Mighty Steel Leg" for which he still shows off when trying to convince people to join the Shaolin faith. Sing believes that in order for us to become better people then we should learn the ways of Shaolin but his efforts are futile and so he decides that he needs a gimmick. He tries singing to no avail and soon afterward he is greeted by an ex-superstar footballer called Fung, once known as "Golden Legs" (Man Tat Ng). Fung spots Sing's magnificent leg in action and tells him that he'd be an excellent football player and with him they could enter a major tournament - immediately Sing comes up with his winning combination. With the help of his old Shaolin brothers Sing will introduce the world to Shaolin and Fung will finally get his revenge on an old friend who crippled him and his career many years ago.
I don't think anyone was expecting just how amazing Shaolin Soccer would actually be when it was announced. Stephen Chow had released many popular Hong Kong comedies in the past, many of which used a lot of local humour that would never see them get a release in the U.S. and many that came later such as King of Comedy, From Beijing with Love and God of Cookery that proved to be more accessible and should have seen Chow get earlier recognition purely for his genial comic talent. Shaolin Soccer is Chow's most accessible film to date and his biggest attempt at reaching a wider audience - he clearly knows this and has geared his film around several visually stunning set pieces and a series of well put together gags to create a memorable film that still feels fresh after three years.
Stephen Chow wrote, starred in and co-directed this feature (alongside Lik Chi-Lee) and has managed to come up with a film that is both aesthetically a marvel and emotionally charged. In between the action the film focuses on fleshing out several characters, all of whom get equal amounts of screen time. Those familiar with Chow's work will instantly recognise several faces here as he continues to work with his most trusted friends and crew members. Added to the mix is the romantic sub plot that has Sing fall for Mui (played admirably by the impossibly cute Vicki Zhao) who is self conscious about her poor complexion and hides her face behind her beautiful hair. Chow subtly drives home certain messages such as the importance of the beauty that comes from within and that companionship is also important. But he does all this in such a well timed manner, with the help of his brilliant cast that it never feels too forced and is in fact believable, despite the overall comical approach.
Shaolin Soccer is an incredible film, made at a time when Hong Kong was getting more enthusiastic about using computer generated technology. The film still stands out as one of the country's finest CG technical achievements today. Stephen Chow has deserved all the praise he's received over the years because he's blended together comedy, action and emotional drama to perfection and with a sequel rumoured to be in the pipeline we can only hope that he manages to pull it off once more.
Well, it finally made it onto R1 DVD and this is perhaps the most important aspect of the review for those wanting to find out just what Miramax has done to this film.
Miramax has provided two cuts of the film on one DVD. From the main menu you can choose to view the "U.S. Theatrical Version" or "Original Chinese Version".
The U.S. version runs for one 1 hour 27 minutes and has a choice of the English dub in 5.1 surround, Cantonese 5.1 or French 5.1. The immediate differences include a new, shorter credit sequence and a reworked soundtrack. Even though you can listen to the film in Cantonese you will still have the new score to put up with. It's not all bad as most of the music is still intact but there are a few new song additions, notably during the hilarious dance sequence and the end credits. These are "Celebration" and "Kung Fu Fighting" re-mixes and may well have the viewer cringing. I did not watch it all the way through however so I cannot give a list of what is exactly missing from the cut but it seems to be silly little things, such as the boy being sick after he gets a football in the gut, yet it retains the extended scenes. It seems some strange choices were made during the editing process.
On to the dub itself. Now you might hate me for saying this and I'm shocked to be saying it myself but this really isn't that bad. While I prefer the original version, naturally I can say that the English dub is credible and that is thanks largely to Stephen Chow who dubs his own voice. His English is very good, I am surprised that he spoke so much, so well. Bai Ling is also onboard and she takes on the role of Mui. The rest of the cast seems to be primarily made up of American actors putting on a Chinese twang, with a few Asian artists well versed in English. Overall I was very surprised but it is a bit of a mixed bag.
I'm also pleased to say that the Chinese version included is presented in its entirety, including the three extra scenes that were available as part of the extended cut on the Universe DVD. The total running time is 1 hour 52 minutes.
The film is presented in its original 1:85.1 aspect ratio and is anamorphically enhanced. Miramax have done a decent job in cleaning up the print although there is noticeable grain running throughout and obvious use of edge enhancement. Colours are generally good although both versions do differ slightly with the Chinese cut looking warmer, so I have included two comparison shots:
In addition, for those wanting to know how this compares to the original HK disc I have provided a further comparison:
Sadly the excellent DTS track that featured on the Universe disc isn't present here on either cut. For the original version, which was my primary choice we get a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track which I can safely say is excellent and makes solid use of the rears, with plenty of special effects being utilized during the action. This is a well mixed track, with clear dialogue but fans who own the HK disc may not be so easily swayed, given the choice of options.
The U.S. version features English, French and Cantonese 5.1 language tracks that sound much the same.
As far as the subtitles go these are optional and easy to read though they seem to be dub titles, with the exception of one or two words. Both cuts feature identical subtitle tracks but it must be noted that the Chinese version occasionally omits the translation, in one scene for example; when the young thug reacts to one of his friends being sick and runs away.
None. I don't understand why this is the case but I do wonder if it has something to do with Miramax spending so long on getting this release out and foregoing any extras, which is a shame. It would have been a bonus to have carried over the trailer and making of feature. All that's left is scene selection and audio set up.
Shaolin Soccer is a masterstroke in Stephen Chow's already impressive catalogue of films that demands to be seen by everyone, if not to show more of his potential then to give Hollywood a good run for its money. There's a reason why the film has crept into many Asian cinema fans' top ten lists over the years, so I urge anyone who hasn't seen it already to go out and see what all the fuss is about. Do it!
Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:02:42