Shaolin Soccer is everything you’ve ever loved (or hated) but were afraid to laugh at in Asian martial-arts movies, ”Matrix”-ian bullet-time actioners, and Farrellyesque slapstick comedies – all rolled into Hong Kong’s highest-grossing local production ever and kicked out with nutty energy by star, director, and cowriter Stephen Chow. The movie – an unstoppable projectile built of gags, bad dialogue translated into suitably stupid English, and flashy moves from the leading practitioner of Hong Kong mo lei tau, or ”nonsense comedy” – has been edited to a zippy 87 minutes by Team Miramax, which bought the international hit, then endlessly delayed its release while it sat like a deflated game ball.
The likable no-brainer is half buoyant goof, half groaner, and all Chow, the guy who once made a parody of an Iron Chef called ”The God of Cookery.” Shaolin, as the erudite may know, is China’s renowned martial-arts temple, and Chow stars as Sing, a down-and-out Shaolin monk who joins up with fellow monk-school grads to form a soccer team powerful enough to beat the evil…Team Evil. (Austin Powers would feel right at home.) No caricature is too broad for Chow to avoid, but weaving through the farce is some lithe, serious action choreography. And there’s even romance: Sing meets Mui (Vicki Zhao), a sweet-bun baker with terrible skin but cool kung fu moves. He tells her to stop hiding behind a curtain of lank hair. She reappears as victoriously bald as E.T. Sigh.