"Shaolin Soccer" — an infectious knockabout kung fu comedy with amusing special effects combined with breathtaking stunts — stars its director, Stephen Chow, as Sing, a Shaolin monk who finds so little call for his wizardly martial arts skills that he's reduced to working as a Shanghai garbage collector. Then he crosses paths with Fung (Ng Man Tat), who 20 years earlier had been China's reigning soccer star until his unscrupulous teammate Hung (Patrick Tse Yin) hired thugs to break Fung's famous "golden leg." Impressed with Sing's skills, Fung suggests he apply them to soccer; if Sing assembles a team, Fung will sign on as its coach.
Sing rounds up an unlikely and none-too-eager crew: some middle-aged guys who are out of shape and a 300-pound youth. Yet all unleash awesome gifts once Fung starts shaping them up. Everything in this lively film builds to a big match that will pit the Shaolins against Hung's Evils, a team of tough young men who've even trained underwater and have been pumped up with performance-enhancing drugs from the U.S. The bruising, lengthy match in effect pits spirit against steroids.
The movie boasts some dazzling moments, such as a ball turning into a fiery comet and then a flaming tiger and a ball whose vortex demolishes everything in its path. In the meantime the soccer players display a wide array of seemingly impossible acrobatics.
For all its emphasis on action, "Shaolin Soccer" makes a case for character and fair play. Sing befriends Mui (Vicki Zhao), who draws upon tai chi kung fu techniques to whip up sweet buns at an outdoor stand. He's able to see beyond the scar tissue, presumably caused by fire, to the beautiful young woman beneath yet is too self-absorbed to reciprocate her affection.
A zesty entertainment, "Shaolin Soccer" has an abundance of strong kung fu action but is presented in an often comic fantasy mode that makes it appropriate for older children.
'Shaolin Soccer' MPAA rating: PG-13, for action violence and thematic elements Times guidelines: Typical martial arts fantasy violence; suitable for older children Stephen Chow...Sing Vicki Zhao...Mui Ng Man Tat...Fung A Star Overseas and Universe Entertainment production, a Stephen Chow and Daniel Lam presentation, released by Miramax Films. Director Stephen Chow. Producer Yeung Kwok Fai. Screenplay by Stephen Chow