View Full Version : Shaolin Soccer

05-04-2004, 11:16:33

Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field

Published: April 5, 2004

lthough he is assumed to be the highest paid actor in Asian film, Stephen Chow remains largely unknown in the United States, a situation that should change now that his worldwide hit of 2001, "Shaolin Soccer," opened over the weekend in New York and Los Angeles to generally favorable reviews.

"I can't name any other actors in Hong Kong who are able to make the films they star in and control them," said Roger Garcia, a former director of the Hong Kong Film Festival. "He's at the top of the heap."

"Shaolin Soccer," which Mr. Chow wrote, directed, produced, edited and starred in, is a broadly funny parody of the genre he and millions of spectators throughout Eastern Asia love best: the martial arts adventure. It is Mr. Chow's conceit that the ancient kung-fu skills have become largely irrelevant in the modern world. How much call is there for someone who can use his stomach muscles to grip and hurl small objects, or who weighs over 300 pounds but can walk on air, or who can use his "golden leg technique" to kick a soda can halfway across Hong Kong, where it ends up lodged deep in a brick wall?

Sing, Mr. Chow's character in the film, is a martial arts champion of the legendary Shaolin Temple school who realizes that, given the dearth of evil Imperial Guards to pummel in contemporary China, such arcane talents as his may be more than useful on a soccer field. Gathering his brothers and some former classmates, he organizes a group of lovable misfits who use their special skills to rise through the ranks of Hong Kong teams. Eventually they confront the nefarious brotherhood, the Evil Team, made up of steroid-enhanced athletes sponsored by a local gangster.

"When I was a kid, I absolutely believed that all of these skills existed," Mr. Chow said in a recent interview over a hamburger in a TriBeCa restaurant. "I looked all over for a school that I could join so that I could learn these skills and protect myself and my family. Even now I don't know if it's true that these skills really exist, but I would like to think so."

"I was a normal person from a normal Hong Kong family," Mr. Chow said. He was born in Hong Kong in 1961 as Chow Sing Chi, the name he is still known by in Asia. (It is sometimes anglicized as "Chiau," but "Chow" remains his preference.) "I went to a normal school and had a normal after-school job, working as an office assistant. I started thinking about my future. I had no special ability, so what can I do? But I had been interested in acting since I saw a Bruce Lee movie for the first time, when I was around 14. I wanted to practice kung fu like Bruce Lee did, and maybe I could become an actor, too. Acting and kung fu are the same thing for me, with the same importance."

Mr. Chow enrolled in an after-hours program for would-be actors, though he was often told that, at 5 foot 6, he was too small to be a leading man. The training did lead to a job as host of a kiddie show called "430 Space Shuttle," on which his partner was the future star Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love"). During the show's four successful years, Mr. Chow developed the high-speed, freely associative patter style that his fans call "mo lei tau," or "nonsense talk," still an important, if usually untranslatable, component of his comic personality.

After a few supporting roles, in 1990 Mr. Chow landed the lead in "All for the Winner," a film that parodied what was then a highly popular series of Hong Kong features starring Chow Yun-Fat as a sophisticated gambler. Playing against Chow Yun-Fat's polished, self-assured manner, Mr. Chow took the role of a country bumpkin, just arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland sticks, whose mysterious ability to see through playing cards proves most useful to his greedy Hong Kong uncle (Ng Man Tat, Mr. Chow's sidekick in almost all of his films since then).

"What made him popular at first was his silly language tricks with the Cantonese dialect," said Barbara Scharres, the director of the Gene Siskel Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago and an authority on Hong Kong film. "But what struck me was that he was making some social comments on the Hong Kong transition to Chinese rule, as it was coming up in 1997. He often plays the greenhorn who comes to Hong Kong from the mainland and is overwhelmed. He was extremely observant, able to capture the essence of the new immigrants in ways that were both funny and mean."

"All for the Winner" contained another element that became a key part of Mr. Chow's screen personality. To parody a star like Chow Yun-Fat was an unusual element of disrespect, of rebelliousness and comic anarchy in Hong Kong's tradition-bound film industry. Mr. Chow developed his style in a frenetic series of films. He made 10 other movies in 1990 and 8 in 1991, including the hit "Fight Back to School," in which he played an undercover cop in a high school. He blended his nonsense talk, his wisecracking and his martial arts ability into a new kind of comic character, Hong Kong's first professional smart aleck.

"That's always my character," Mr. Chow said. "In reality I am nothing like that." In person he comes across as shy and apprehensive, though his laugh is loud and spontaneous. His perfectionism is much on display in "Shaolin Soccer," a film that makes perhaps the best comic use of computer-generated images since "The Mask" with Jim Carrey in 1994, a movie that greatly influenced Mr. Chow. Mr. Carrey has since returned the compliment: 20th Century Fox has purchased "God of Cookery," a 1996 Stephen Chow film, for a Jim Carrey remake.

"It is difficult to improvise with digital effects," Mr. Chow said. "For example there was no soccer ball at all when we were acting. We would just kick the air and react to each other as if we were playing. It requires very exact timing and control. There's no way to recognize that when you play the tape back on the set, so you just shoot it and send it in. And if the computer guy says there's something wrong with the timing, you just shoot it all over again."

"Shaolin Soccer" was scheduled to open last summer, but was delayed while Miramax, the company that owns the American rights, tested a dubbed version for general audiences. Eventually the company decided to go with a subtitled print of the film some 20 minutes shorter than the version released in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile Mr. Chow has finished shooting another movie, he said on the phone from Hong Kong last week. Titled "Kung Fu Hustle" and produced by Sony Pictures, it is set in Canton in the 1940's and finds Mr. Chow as an aspiring gangster who hides his fear behind verbal bluster.

"It's an action comedy," Mr. Chow said. "Kung fu, but without the flying and swords thing, a more traditional view of martial arts. Bruce Lee was power and speed and flexibility. That's the feeling I want this time."

It's a fairly average film, but still fun nevertheless. I watched it without any subtitles or understanding of Cantonese and had little trouble following it or enjoying it. :coolgrin:

05-04-2004, 11:44:43
I take it you got to see the proper version then. Over here we have an extremely cut down version. Although I think my teacher has the full length one. They were selling it everywhere in Thailand for as little as a quid. I should have bought a load to sell over here. It's quite rare.

05-04-2004, 14:39:13
I have it on a regionless DVD at home courtesy of a cowie who bought it months ago, but haven't got around to watching it yet. The trailer was hilarious.

05-04-2004, 14:54:21
Does regionless mean you can play it on any DVD player? If so can I borrow it when you have finished watching it? Sounds genius.

05-04-2004, 15:05:01
i belive that's what it means, and yes you can certainly borrow it

05-04-2004, 15:17:11

13-04-2004, 09:32:57
watched this sunday night

very cool special effects, some funny scenes and the whole thing was typically quirky

the subtitles were apallingly translated, but it didn't really harm the movie.

funko i'll get it round to you sometime soon - i watched it on my ps2 so it will definitely work. One thing to bear in mind though: because it is a rip you won't be able to do scene select, so be ready to watch it in one go if you do want to watch it.

13-04-2004, 10:04:31
ok cool, thanks.