[box cover]

Shaolin Soccer

Stephen Chow's Shaolin Soccer was a hit in China upon its release in 2001, and Miramax quickly snatched it up for U.S. distribution. In standard fashion, however, the company decided to recut the film for the American audience, having deemed the chop-socky humor and Eastern drama a little too broad for their target market. After a brief run in New York and Los Angeles in 2002, the company decided that the picture was doomed for failure, and it was thus left to rot in the Miramax vault. However, never ones to completely abandon an investment, Shaolin Soccer has earned a Region 1 DVD release, and, in a wise move, both the Hong Kong and U.S. versions are presented on this disc. Golden Leg (Ng Man Tat) is the star of Chinese soccer in 1983, but when he decides to take a bribe from Hung (Yin Tse) to throw the championship, he is rushed by a mob of angry fans, leaving him crippled. Flash forward 20 years, and Hung now rules the sport with his dominant Team Evil. Golden Leg Fung licks his boots, hoping one day to coach a team of his own. In a fit of luck, he meets Sing (Chow), wielder of the Mighty Steel Leg, a hopeful young man who works menial tasks while trying to discover a way to bring back relevance to his kung fu. Sing and five others were forced to learn kung fu instead of going to school, leaving them skill-free in the modern world and forced into a life as janitors and store clerks. (The only brother who claims to be a successful accountant tells Sing that his driver has the day off, and that he loaned his car to an associate. His crummy bicycle makes him seem devious). Depressed and cynical about their stations in life, and blaming kung fu for it, the group want no part in Sing's plans. However, fond memories of their past lives inspire them to join their brother's pursuit of happiness. Awkward and unskilled at first, a test match against a violent street gang brings a return of their Shaolin powers, and the Brothers' display is a thing to behold. Once in the tournament, the Brothers leave a trail of defeated teams in their wake, as their powers prove unstoppable. A team of wuxia fighters disguised as men provides a brief challenge, but ultimately the Brothers must face the feared Team Evil. Hung's dominant team is a creation of Ivan Drago proportions, trained with technology and American drugs. For the first time, the Brothers are faced with a power equal to their own, and the fate of, well… the Chinese Championship hangs in the balance. While it's simple to criticize Miramax for butchering their overseas acquisitions, in this case they've taken an original work of art and cut it down to its Jackie Chan-inspired roots. While the influence of Chan-Sammo Hung buddy comedies is very apparent in the text, Shaolin Soccer in its original form rises above most of the efforts that inspired it. The last 45 minutes remain intact, being the portion that contains the kung-fu laden soccer action that's certainly the most entertaining aspect of the film. However, the U.S. version removes the majority of depth from the first two acts, removing the "needless" character development (the relationship between Sing and the kung-fu master/baker Mui, Hung and Fung's past) in an effort to get to the effects-laden action 30 minutes faster. For anyone who wants the Cliff's Notes version, it's present here, but film lovers should be thrilled to see the original in its uncut splendor. Buena Vista/Miramax presents Shaolin Soccer in both versions with good anamorphic transfers (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The Hong Kong cut clocks in at 112 minutes, while the U.S. cut runs 89 minutes. No extras, keep-case.
—Scott Anderson

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