Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2005-10-09
Summary: The redemptive power of soccer
Having read the review of this movie here and elsewhere, I realized that there was no point in another review telling people that it is an excellent piece of work—many have already done that, many of them more qualified than I. But watching it again recently I realized that there was at least one strong unifying theme that I had missed in past viewings--the idea of redemption or deliverance runs through “Shaolin Soccer”. Each of the three main characters has a crippling flaw that must be overcome. Golden Leg Fung accepted a bribe to miss a key penalty kick—he is now homeless and without prospects, slurping from a can of beer as he wanders the streets of Hong Kong. On a slightly higher social and economic level is Steel Leg Sing who lives picking up cans and other discards and who can’t interest anyone in his plans to teach Shaolin Kung Fu to the masses. Mui has been born with almost disfiguring facial blemishes. She avoids most human contact and uses her outstanding Tai Chi skills only for making sweet buns.

One of the ways this theme is underlined and foregrounded is the film’s score. It sounds like there is a lot of borrowing from successful movie composers such as John Williams, Maurice Jarre, Trevor Jones and even Ennio Morricone, so they decided to appropriate their tunes from the very best. The major key chords that emphasize anything close to a personal crisis (and there are a lot of them) become almost expected, with crescendos from strings and winds constantly highlighting how practically all the characters have to get beyond their current problems and work for the greater good—to look past the present and into what the future could hold for them.

That Steel Leg Sing is the only character who has a real vision of what he wants to accomplish isn’t important. Golden Leg Fung wants money and revenge. Miu want the love of Steel Leg Sing. In each case the character wants something better than he or she has. The motivation for the rest of the Kung Fu brothers isn’t really made clear but it is there. One very obvious example is when Iron Shirt Tin fills in for the injured goalie he places a call to (I think) his wife and children to tell them that he loves them above anything else—with this action he sheds the shackles of his old life, of a driven and constantly busy businessman and embraces the simpler pleasures of soccer and family.

“Shaolin Soccer” shares its theme of the redemptive possibilities available to people with several types of movies that feature emancipation from a present horrible situation by seizing hold of its alternative. There is the redemption of an ordinary guy involved with forces he can’t understand or deal with, such as “A Wonderful Life”; the redemption of a flawed but still attractive character, as in “Groundhog Day” or the redemption of a person who has been dealt a bad hand from the beginning, like “My Left Foot”. Another type, which isn’t part of this movie, is when a villain redeems his life at the very end by an out of character selfless act—a great example of this is “Angels with Dirty Faces”.

Reviewer Score: 9