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Film / Shaolin Soccer

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As you would expect from the title and director. This movie plays out like a comedy-Wuxia sports movie.

Sing is a young Shaolin master who wants to promote and spread the benefits of kung fu to the modern world — with little success (even with a song-and-dance routine). He then meets a disgraced and crippled former soccer star, "Golden Leg" Fung (Ng Man-tat), who is now working as an errand boy for Hung, his ex-teammate responsible for the Game-Breaking Injury that cut short his promising career. Initially unimpressed by Sing, Fung soon discovers Sing's unique trait: a leg strong enough to bring down a brick wall and send a beer can flying miles into the air.

Both men reach a consensus to form a soccer team specializing in shaolin, each with a mutual purpose: Fung seeks revenge against Hung, while Sing uses the sport as both a vessel for his discipline and a way to promote kung fu to the world. To this end, the latter sets about finding his five brothers (not biological brothers, but his fellow disciple brothers that all studied under the same master), all possessors of unique physical abilities. All of his brothers have since given up on Shaolin and are in similarly disgraced predicaments as Fung. After initially rejecting Sing's pleas, the brothers get together to form Team Shaolin. When it's revealed that Sing and the rest of the team barely knows anything about soccer and that Sing is the only one that retained his Shaolin abilities, Fung just about gives up with them. However, during their first match against Team Rebellion, the remaining five brothers re-awaken their Shaolin powers, quickly turning the match in their favor. They also proceed to wow the members of Team Rebellion, a gang of bullies led by a member of the mob. The defeated members of Team Rebellion requested to join Team Shaolin, to which they happily obliged. They would go on to recruit more members from other teams along the way.

Fung enters the team into the China Super Cup in Hong Kong, where they make it to the finals after a series of consecutive and hilariously one-sided matches. There, they run into Team Evil, a powerful team headed by none other than Hung, who is also using his position as chairman of the National Soccer League to rig the tournament in his favor. The members of Team Evil have been injected with performance-enhancing drugs, granting them physical abilities equal to or perhaps even greater than Team Shaolin.

Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow directed the movie and played the main character Sing. The movie became the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong's history in 2001 and won the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Funny, over the top, slapstick, and filled with amazing CGI effects, it was the first Stephen Chow film that gained the attention of mainstream Western audiences, and also the last Stephen Chow film featuring Ng Man-tat.

Shaolin Soccer contains examples of:

  • Acrofatic: Little Brother, the fat one, can basically fly.
  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time Vincent Kok, who portrays the captain of Team Tofu in the preliminaries, has exclaimed "It's just an optical illusion! It doesn't scare me!" The same line is repeated word for word in Kok's previous appearance as Bull Tong from God of Cookery, another Stephen Chow film.
  • Adam Westing: Patrick Tse Yin, a '60s Hong Kong screen idol better known now for Adam Westing, as Hung.
  • Advantage Ball: Team Shaolin's first match against a gang of hoodlums is a fiasco at first because of their poor teamwork, until their kung fu powers reawaken and they mop the field.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Zigzagged. Fung puts Sing in a situation where his martial arts powers prove to be too powerful to be put to practical use but with the proper training, Sing turns into a force of awesomeness both in asskicking and on the field.
  • Badass Longcoat: Played straight and spoofed. Empty Hand wears the more traditional coat, while Iron Head wears a grubby bathrobe. Both catch Dramatic Wind when they takes their places on the team.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Technically they all are, but Empty Hand fits this trope the best.
  • Battle Aura: Explosions of fire as each of the six brothers remember who they are. Also displayed in the final match by both the Shaolin and Evil Team.
  • Beautiful All Along: Double Subverted. Mui, originally a rather ugly girl with terrible acne, gets a makeover in hopes of attracting Sing. She ends up with streetwalker-thick makeup, hair straight out of The '80s and shoulder pads. Eventually she goes through a second transformation where she gives up the makeup, shaves her head bald… and looks better than ever, in time for a Heroic Second Wind against Team Evil.
  • Berserk Button: Do not touch Little Brother's eggs, bring attention to Hooking Leg's receding hairline or mention Fung's leg injury.
  • Black-and-White Morality: Team Shaolin is good. Team Evil is bad.
  • Black Comedy: When Empty Hand is finally put on a stretcher, the other guys give a speech and send him off like it was Bruce Lee's funeral.
  • Blatant Lies: Team Rebellion's captain has wrenches and tools falling out of his soccer shorts before the game begins. Because he's an on-call mechanic. Honest.
  • Book Ends: The plot kicks off when Sing and Fung watch a woman in heels wipe out due to a Banana Peel, with Sing remarking that if she'd only known Shaolin, she would have recovered easily. After the championship match, he sees the same woman gracefully regain her balance via handstand after encountering another one.
  • Break the Haughty/Game-Breaking Injury: How Fung ended up a cripple.
  • Bring It: Empty Hand, who can even do this with a look.
  • Bruce Lee Clone: Empty Hand, who wears Lee's signature yellow tracksuit while tending goal. The actor playing him is a close friend of Stephen Chow, who tries to cast him in all of his movies for this exact reason. He's actually a choreographer who came up with the dance sequence. Bruce himself was a champion Cha-cha dancer.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • Played for Laughs after Fung starts training the team in feints, which becomes their primary strategy against the hoodlum team, to hilariously minimal effect.
    • Zigzagged with Sing's training, which grants him Improbable Aiming Skills with a soccer ball - he nails a goal post the first time, but during the first league match, scoring goals from the middle of the field marks the start of the Curb-Stomp Battle.
  • Cherry Tapping: In the first league match, the first time the opponents' goalie even gets near the ball, it knocks all the wind out of him, preventing him from stopping Sing from just tapping it over the goal line.
  • Clothing Damage: Happens several times, either to show that serious injury is occurring or for comedic effect. Iron Shirt tends to shred his jersey when he employs his abilities.
  • Cool Shades:
    • Played for Laughs. Apparently the five brothers thought getting back in the game must involve this trope.
    • Played straight when Empty Hand is taken off the field on a stretcher and puts them on, the others salute him. It's actually a pretty cool moment.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hung, president of the National Soccer League and manager of Team Evil, who ensures that all of them are drugged to maximum performance.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Team Shaolin's first league match, leading up to more and more of the opponents being flung past their own goal! The resulting score is 1000-0.
  • Dance Battler: Hooking Leg's fighting style is a combination of Capoeira and breakdancing.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: What happens with Team Rebellion after Team Shaolin awaken their powers and subsequently trounce them. Double subverted: Most of them abandon Team Shaolin after the brutal beatdown by Team Evil, but two of them willingly stay with the team even in the face of certain defeat.
  • Dragons Up the Yin Yang: Mui traces a taijitsu while making buns. This serves to set her apart as a Taoist Tai Chi practitioner, as opposed to the Buddhist Shaolin monksnote . She also speaks Mandarin, unlike the other characters, who speak Cantonese. The whole thing is to pay tribute to all of China's religious and martial-arts traditions.
  • Dramatic Wind: Catches Empty Hand's old jacket and Iron Head's grubby bathrobe as if they were Badass Longcoats. As well as Little Brother's scarf (which is only there for this reason really), Iron Shirt's tie and Hooking Leg's combover.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Sing constantly points out a few people that would have less trouble with their lives if they just knew Shaolin kung fu. After defeating Team Evil, Sing is last seen walking amongst a crowd now using kung fu to solve mundane problems. In the English dub, the song that plays in the background is a cover of "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Fung is all too desperate to find his way back into glory in soccer but it's hinted that he's not about to put innocent lives in danger for it, which is why he forbids Sing from joining his brothers in soccer training until he can properly control his kicks within the limits of soccer, less he kicks the ball into a plane and causes it to crash.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin - Shaolin monks playing soccer. Any questions? Additionally, with a name like "Team Evil" you know what to expect right off the bat.
  • Excuse Me While I Multitask: When Mui fends off her angry boss.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Look carefully at Empty Hand's hair when the first Battle Aura happens - it turns from the messy bum do to the Bruce Lee moptop.
  • Extremity Extremist: The premise of Mighty Steel Leg and Hooking Leg's styles. Mighty Steel Leg is exactly what it sounds like, allowing Sing to deliver kicks of superhuman power, speed and - with enough practice - accuracy. Hooking Leg is basically like breakdancing or capoeira. Empty Hand also specializes in using his hands.
  • Face Palm: When Mui first takes the field… only to wind up on Team Evil's goal position.
  • Failed Attempt at Drama: Mui as the new goalie makes a dramatic entrance and walks into the goal post… of Team Evil.
  • Foreshadowing: During the opening sequence, there's a conspicuous shot of a bat hitting Fung's Golden Leg. Odd thing to bring to a soccer game, even if you're planning to riot. Present Hung outright admits he bribed the "rioters" who crippled his old rival.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Two of the female soccer players have fake facial hair.
    • Also, the woman who works at the beauty parlor where Mui gets her '80s-style makeover has a goatee.
  • Happily Married: Sing and Mui by the end of the film.
  • Hard Head - "Iron Head", the eldest of the Shaolin monks, gifted with a seemingly impervious cranium. His abusive boss repeatedly breaks bottles over his head to chastise his poor performance, with no effect.
  • Heads, Tails, Edge: Iron Shirt states that their chances of winning the soccer tournament are the same as the coin landing on its side. A little later he drops it. Guess where it lands.
  • The Hopeless Replacement: In the last few minutes of the final match against Team Evil, Team Shaolin is short of one goalie and will be forced to forfeit unless they find a a replacement. Cue Mui, shaved bald and in tai chi robes, stopping an enemy strike and pulling off a Combination Attack with Sing for the winning goal.
  • Humiliation Conga: For Hung at film's end. After Sing and Mui defeats Team Evil, the dust clears… to reveal Team Evil's previously smug goalie lying naked with his butt bared towards the entire stadium, the news crew lying behind it all. Almost ALL the spectators then focus their eyes on Hung, who ends up tripping himself. Right after Fung deals long awaited revenge, Hung gets carried off, where he's removed from his position of power, losing his entire empire to the works of the very same man he crippled and controlled for years. Not to mention that mere minutes ago, he was laughing his face off at Team Shaolin's new replacement.
  • Idiot Hero: Sing takes the kung fu ideal of earnestness and straightforwardness a bit too far.
  • Imagine Spot: A couple of times, from Sing's idea about the other uses for Shaolin kung fu to the practice match against the hoodlum team turning into a war zone.
  • Important Haircut: Mui gets two haircuts at critical points. First she tries to impress Sing but she looks terrible. Then she shaves her head when she joins Team Shaoling as a replacement goalie. Somehow, the makeover reveals that she's Beautiful All Along. Sing also gets to make jokes about it.
    "Why did you cut your hair like an alien? Go back to Mars! Earth is very dangerous!"
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Sing's training lets him nail a bullseye spraypainted in a wall fifty feet away! REPEATEDLY!
  • Instant Cosplay Surprise: Fung ends up wearing Shaolin monk gear and a beard during Sing's speech.
  • Karma Houdini: The hoodlum team are not only Easily Forgiven, but conscripted to fill the ranks of Team Shaolin. All but two flee in the big game, so the two who remain get to share in the glory.
  • Kung-Fu Sonic Boom: So many examples. A player exhibiting an aura turning into a puma, a ball turning into flames, a kick uprooting most of the soccer field and literally blowing away a player or an entire team.
  • Large Ham: Patrick Tse Yin as Hung, who even out-chews Sing and Fung. Also see Adam Westing above.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After his humiliating defeat to Team Shaolin, Hung trips over the stairs, landing in a crippled heap in plain sight for all his aides, guests and fellow spectators to see. Almost afterwards, Hung is removed as president of the National Soccer League and gets a five-year prison term for drugging Team Evil, whose members are now permanently banned from professional competition.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: When two of Team Mustache's members completely jump over Little Brother and Sing, these two have this to say.
    Little Brother: How are they flying like that?
    Sing: I think it's special effects!
  • Loophole Abuse: Sing swore he wouldn't use his kung fu to fight people. When confronted by a gang of thugs, one of them throws a soccer ball at him, which he then uses to incapacitate all of them.
    Sing: I'm not fighting! I'm playing soccer!
    • The headline after the championship match explicitly calls out three instances, finishing with "Fortunately, there are no rules against any of these - Probably no one ever thought of them before."
  • Made of Iron: It's called the Iron Shirt style for a reason. It takes Team Evil's ultimate technique to bring him down and he still doesn't concede the goal.
    • Empty Hand also takes an inordinate amount of punishment before he's benched.
  • Martial Arts for Mundane Purposes: Sing and his brothers play soccer with kung fu. Mui uses tai chi when baking. In the epilogue, martial arts is basically used for everything (including car parking).
  • Mirror Boss: Team Evil's players have most of the same abilities as the Shaolin monks.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: When Team Shaolin advances up the tournament ladder.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: The martial arts is one thing, but when you have a soccer ball emerging from a bunch of old shoes for a climax, you know they were going for this trope.
  • Mundane Utility:
    • Sing believes that kung fu is relevant in this modern age because you can use chi blasts to help parallel park. [[spoiler:The movie ends with a woman doing just that, as well as other people using Wuxia-style Kung-fu in their daily lives. In the American release, this last scene is set to a remix of "Kung-Fu Fighting".
    • Mui uses tai-chi to bake taijibread.
    • The general premise of the film is using Supernatural Martial Arts to play Association Football.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The Team Evil goalie at the end.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The whole purpose of the "striker gallery" (combining "striker" with "shooting gallery"), where the entire opposing team lines up to take turns pummeling the goalie. Team Mustache lines one up on Empty Hand, which doesn't work. Then Team Evil lines one up on Iron Shirt, which does.
    • This also applies to Team Shaolin's practice match against the hoodlums' team before their powers awaken.
  • No-Sell: The match against Team Evil starts with Sing kicking a ball so hard it transforms into a flaming puma, which the opposing goalie effortlessly blocks with one hand.
  • Obviously Evil: In some English translations, the opposing team is actually called Team Evil. Their name is more subtly evil in the original language.
  • The Oner: Used in some of the league matches to illustrate Team Shaolin's flawless coordination and general rampage across the league.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Team Shaolin trains in martial arts to improve their lives as well as their playing ability. Team Evil uses soulless technology and steroids to improve performance.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: While advancing through the tournament, Team Shaolin faces off against Team Dragon, whose two star players are women with obviously fake moustaches stuck on their faces. Both are Hong Kong pop celebrities Cecilia Cheung and Karen Mok, who are former female leads of Chow's movies.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Iron Shirt is the toughest member of the team. He's also the smallest.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
    Sing: I'm not going to fight. I'm going to play soccer.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Sing had to track down his old training buddies to reunite and begin practicing kung fu again. Most of them are working in menial jobs and are unmotivated.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Goes both ways. After catching on to the Unnecessary Roughness and the biased calls, Team Shaolin indulge in a bit of trolling with one of the referees - snatching the yellow card from his hand, knocking the back of his head, then outright punching him in the face.
  • Rule of Three: The gag about Little Brother's eggs - Fung's demonstrating how Sing can't control his mighty legs by making him juggle an egg on his feet, which ends up smashing an egg and making Little Brother chew the yolk off his already beat-up shoes. The second time, the egg smashes on his pants, forcing Sing to act fast and hurl another egg into Iron Shirt's mouth, leading to Little Brother essentially Frenching him. Finally, Sing just about masters egg-juggling but inadvertently smashes it while trying to catch it. Cue Little Brother's reaction, Sing throwing another egg into Iron Shirt's mouth, and the guys watch the action again. One of 'em's taking pictures!
  • Science Is Useless: Team Shaolin defeats the steroid-taking Team Evil in the end — achieved by a shaven Mui's timely appearance and her tai chi skills. One short segment where Team Shaolin nearly score a goal shows that they almost certainly would have won had Hung not rigged the match so his Team Evil could just brutalize Team Shaolin.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Team Rebellion's coach cuts and runs after Team Shaolin reawakens their dormant skills, mops the field, and convinces his players to defect to Sing's side.
  • Shaping Your Attacks: During the match against Team Evil, Sing's kick is so hard that the ball catches fire and turns into a flaming puma. Unfortunately, this proves to be useless, as Team Evil's goalkeeper stops the ball effortlessly.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Averted with Mui, who starts out with genuinely horrific acne, then gets taken by a salon into a ridiculously overblown look. Then she shaves her head.
  • Shout-Out
    • Captain Tsubasa: Stephen Chow openly acknowledges this anime as his chief inspiration for the film.
    • Empty Hand, Team Shaolin's goalkeeper, is a very obvious one to Bruce Lee, right down to the yellow jumpsuit. What makes it funny is that originally he was the choreographer brought in for the dance sequence.
    • Speaking of the dance sequence, it's an obvious shout out to Michael Jackson's "Thriller"
    • Iron Vest can make his shirt rip itself apart Fist of the North Star-style.
    • The film contains plenty of Shout Outs to Hong Kong TV and film. For example, Team Dragon's obviously mustachioed female star players are a parody of countless comedies where pretty females don a fake mustache and everyone think they're men; at the end the lady who slips but then does a handstand flip back onto her feet and flicks her long hair before walking past Sing has the exact slowmotion-fastmotion-slowmotion take as a well-known shampoo commercial from the 90s.
    • The water-in-the-glass scene from Jurassic Park, when Sing is slamming the ball against the wall while exercising.
    • For the moment when Mui blocks Team Evil's ball, someone decided to make the music "King of Pride Rock" for whatever reason.
    • The opposing striker Team Shaolin faces in their first game exclaims "It's just an illusion! It can't scare me!" when they start losing. It's the same words used by the Big Bad from Chow's earlier film God of Cookery following the Deus ex Machina.
    • This scene has Mui channeling Neo. The movie came out two years after the Matrix, and that's far from the only shout out.
    • Hung setting up an attack on Fung's leg is reminiscent of Tonya Harding's attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan.
  • Shrinking Violet: Mui is unattractive, constantly mumbling, withdrawn and eventually pulls out of public life to become a nun. Until the final showdown, when she appears, bald-headed, Beautiful All Along, and, with Sing, pulls off a yin-yang combo of tai chi and shaolin to utterly defeat Team Evil.
  • Spectacular Spinning: The more spinning before a strike, the more powerful it becomes. Team Evil's most powerful attack involves spinning the ball at preposterous speeds so that it absorbs a giant black dragon. How do you counteract such a spin-powered strike? MORE SPINNING.
  • Super-Strength: Most of Team Shaolin and all of Team Evil's players exhibit this.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • It took a bit for Sing and Fung to convince the former's brothers to join their cause to use their martial arts for soccer. They all declined due to rust in their techniques, lack of self-confidence and, more importantly, they all have jobs and lives they can't just drop because of the off chance they can succeed. It was Iron Shirt, the businessman, to tell them the odds of their chances of succeeding, when accounting their lack of knowledge of how to play soccer no less as well.
    • Fung has to remind Sing why he needs to learn proper self control of his martial arts in Soccer. Sure his kicks are something to be feared, but he can't just expect that brute force alone would be enough to win. Fung tells him that with no proper training in the sport, he can accidentally hit bystanders or even a plane, which with his force, could cause it to crash. Sure enough, once Sing learns how to control it properly, he was allowed to join his brothers in their practice. When Team Shaolin actually learn how the sport is played, they become nigh-unstoppable when the properly integrate their martial arts with it.
    • Any sports committee worth their salt would not have allowed Hung and Team Evil to use enhancement drugs. Once it was discovered, Hung was hit with immediate expulsion for his position and a five year prison sentence to boot, and his team was banned for life.
  • Technical Pacifist: Even before training starts, Sing and the guys never cross the line into actual violence, even against the hoodlum team who were actually asking for it. It's amazing how much more damage a soccer ball can do, though.
  • Tempting Fate: This happens quite a few times actually
    • Hung would have kept his cushy job and Team Evil would still be superior had Hung not foolishly allowed Team Shaolin to compete and even pay for their entry fees as a joke. Literally, that was Team Shaolin's only real obstacle and neither Fung nor any member had the means to sign up and pay.
    • The first team that Team Shaolin faces expected them to be complete jokes, and in all fairness, they fit the part, throughout the game, they learn quickly why they stood no chance.
    • The lady who was Mui's boss started with her hard attitude on Sing when he couldn't find her and even claimed she killed him. When Sing shows off his strength, she changed her tune immediately, dropped any sort of brashness and entered a professional attitude.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The ending montage of normal civilians using kung fu to complete everyday tasks is set to a slower, powerful reprise of the main theme.
  • Unnecessary Roughness
    • On two instances, players deliberately try to break an opposing player's leg.
    • Team Rebellion's entire playing style is built around simply beating up Team Shaolin. The captain even has wrenches hidden in his shorts, which keep falling out before the game even begins.
    • Team Evil's play causes some rather serious injuries on Team Shaolin's players.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: The first time a guy takes one of Sing's shots to the gut. It takes the live action equivalent of a Beat Panel to take effect, too.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Team Evil gets plenty of chances to rack up the goals, but opt to inflict injuries on Team Shaolin instead.
  • World of Badass: The epilogue shows martial arts having become a popular trend among the general public, starting from a woman who slips over a Banana Peel but does a backflip and continues walking as if nothing had happened, and ending with a bunch of people who jump onto the roof of a bus to board it — effectively, the setting has become this.
  • The Worf Effect: The two ladies of Team Mustache rampage past every Team Shaolin player only to run straight into Empty Hand and establish him as the goalie of all goalies.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: Empty Hand and later Iron Shirt as goalie towards the end.


Video Example(s):


Shaolin Soccer

Sing is a young Shaolin master who wants to spread the benefits of kung fu to the modern world -- with little success (even on a song-and-dance routine). Then he meets a disgraced and crippled former soccer star, "Golden Leg" Fung, who is now working as an errand boy for Hung, his ex-teammate responsible for the Game-Breaking Injury that cut short his promising career. Initially unimpressed by Sing, Fung soon discovers Sing's unique trait: a kick strong enough to bring down a brick wall and send a beer can flying miles into the air.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / Wuxia

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