Washed up ex-football star ‘Golden Leg’ is persuaded to coach a team consisting of kung-fu masters. With the help of ‘Mighty Steel Leg’, ‘Iron Head’, ‘Iron Shirt’, ‘Light Weight’, ‘Hooking Leg’ and ‘Lightning Hands’ he hopes to win the championship cup, but his old nemesis Hung, manager of the vicious ‘Team Evil’, will stop at nothing to ensure that the cup will be his.

Shaolin Soccer (2001) – Director: Stephen Chow

Is Shaolin Soccer appropriate for kids

Rating: 12

Running Length: 113 mins

Starring: Stephen Chow, Wei Zhao, Yin Tse

Genre: Martial Arts, Sport, Comedy

REVIEW

Shaolin Soccer’ is a superb blend of cartoon-ish CGI, martial art action and slapstick comedy. Writer and Director, Stephen Chow, brings a uniquely Chinese blend of genres together into an endlessly entertaining mixture. Each actor delivers a great comic performance; be it the endlessly naive enthusiasm of Mighty Steel Leg (played by Chow); the sullen crankiness of Iron Head as yet another bottle smashes over him; or the babbling of hyper-stressed office worker, Iron Shirt. For fans of comedy, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ hits the back of the net.

One of the other distinctive elements of Chow’s films is the over-the-top CGI effects and these are used to full comedic effect here. People are sent flying through the air like skittles when a football, thumped up to supersonic speed, crashes through them. An exaggerated sense of scale and strength gives ‘Shaolin Soccer’ a wonderfully tangible atmosphere, where learning kung-fu brings a sense of unity and drive to someone’s life. This is a martial arts movie that isn’t about punch ups or saving the girl. This is a sport film that isn’t about winning at all costs. This is a comedy movie that isn’t about cheap gags. It all comes together in a winning package and for fans of knowingly over-the-top films, ‘Shaolin Soccer’ will tick all the boxes.

IS ‘SHAOLIN SOCCER’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

There is little in the way of content not appropriate for children in ‘Shaolin Soccer’ but there are some moments that parents may want to know about in advance.

At the beginning of the movie a young Golden Leg (who is shown to be very arrogant) misses a kick in an important match. The angry crowd storm the pitch and attack him with a baseball bat. They pin his leg and crack it with the bat causing him to yell in pain. This is a quick moment and the camera cuts as the bat connects. However the scene then changes to around twenty years later, Golden Leg now walks with a heavy limp and he is referred to derogatively as ‘a cripple’. This term is used as an insult constantly throughout the film.

When we are introduced to Iron Head, we see his boss berating him. He grabs glass beer bottles and smashes them over Iron Head’s head. Iron Head clearly feels no pain from this and barely acknowledges the contact, but it is worth mentioning in case children imitate this behaviour. Similarly Golden Leg stops to urinate against a wall. The camera is angled between his legs from behind. This is another imitable behaviour to perhaps be aware of.

In one scene Mighty Steel Leg takes revenge on some characters who beat him up earlier in the movie. He uses his kung-fu skills to intimidate them and kicks a football so hard into someone’s stomach that they vomit. Mighty Steel Leg has already been shown to be extremely poor and he only wears torn and tatty clothes. After he has finished with his would-be attackers, he asks one of them to give him whatever money he has. The character asks, “Are you stealing my money?” to which he replies, “Yes”. This is a comedy scene and it has already been established that the character of Steel Leg takes the money from someone who deserves it, but again we mention it in case a young child feels that such behaviour is acceptable and it may need some parental explanation to mitigate, although this is very mild.

There is one very strange scene where, as part of a training exercise, one of Light Weight’s eggs is thrown into Iron Shirt’s mouth where it breaks. Light Weight (who has been shown to be unable to control his eating) then charges towards Iron Shirt, pins him to the ground, and ‘sucks’ the egg out his mouth whilst the other team members gather around, bemused. This is a rather unexpected moment (which happens again shortly after) and we mention it purely because you may find yourself subject to some questions from inquiring child minds that you would not otherwise have expected from a movie such as this.

Most of the violence in ‘Shaolin Soccer’ is exaggerated and comedic. There is very little in terms of blood and usually there is some light or amusing relief to counterpoint the dramatic moments. During a training match the new Shaolin Soccer team are paired up against a team notorious for cheating. The cheating team produce crowbars, hammers and spanners and proceed to pummel the Shaolin team in a scene lasting a few minutes. Again this is mostly played for laughs and the Shaolin team soon regroup. However before this happens Iron Head is humiliated and forced to wear used underwear on his head and say, ‘I’m a dog’. This moment lasts around a minute.

There is a female character called Mui. Her face is covered in scabs and her hair is greasy. She is very shy and hides her face as much as possible. Steel Leg is very kind towards her which she mistakes for attraction. A fly buzzes around her face and he slaps her in an attempt to get it. Later she puts herself through a makeover and ends up looking ridiculous. The Shaolin Soccer team make fun of her appearance and although she joins in the jokes at first she then becomes upset. However as soon as the team realise they went too far they all immediately apologise. Later Mui is very upset and there is a slow scene of her crying whilst making her signature steamed buns. This lasts a few minutes, is quite emotional and although it is the only scene of its kind, empathetic children may get upset at this point.

Some minor last parts to mention include when, during the match against Team Evil, one of the Team Evil players is winding up for a powerful shot on goal. He leaps into the air and a black smoke cloud erupts from him forming into a large snarling and evil-looking face. This lasts a few seconds. Also due to the force of a shot on goal, the Team Evil goalkeeper gets his clothes blasted off and there is a brief shot of his bare bottom.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

Shaolin Soccer’ plays to a broad variety of sensibilities. The comedy comes thick and fast from a quick and snappy script as well as a plethora of physical jokes and fantastical talents. Chow is fun as the lovable, naive and down-and-out kung fu master. His team mates felsh the movie out by all have their own entertaining idiosyncrasies. We feel this film should be appropriate for all children over the age of 7 and for those younger we recommend parental supervision to ensure that some moments are not picked up as imitable behaviour.

  • Violence:  2/5 (almost all the violence is comedic and none of it is graphic or gory)
  • Emotional Distress: 1/5 (Mui gets upset on a few occasions)
  • Fear Factor: 1/5
  • Sexual Content: 1/5       
  • Bad Language: 1/5 (some mild language is used a couple of times)
  • Dialogue: 1/5 (one characters says in despair, “My entire family will commit suicide in front of you!” to which Steel Leg replies “Suicide’s not the answer” – this is played as a comedy scene)
  • Other notes: Deals with themes of realising your full potential, learning how to better yourself and the strength of conviction.

Words by Mike Record

Shaolin Soccer [DVD]


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