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Shaolin Soccer

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Shaolin Soccer
Theatrical release poster
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese少林足球
Directed byStephen Chow
Written by
  • Stephen Chow
  • Tsang Kan-cheung
Produced byYeung Kwok-Fai
Edited byKai Kit-Wai
Music by
  • Star Overseas Ltd
  • Universe Entertainment Ltd
Distributed byUniverse Entertainment Ltd.
Release date
  • 12 July 2001 (2001-07-12)
Running time
112 minutes[1]
CountryHong Kong
Mandarin Chinese
BudgetUS$10 million[2]
Box officeUS$42.8 million[3]

Shaolin Soccer (Chinese: 少林足球) is a 2001 Hong Kong sports comedy film directed by Stephen Chow, who also stars in the lead role. The film revolves around a former Shaolin monk who reunites his five brothers,[note 1] years after their master's death, to apply their superhuman martial arts skills to play soccer and bring Shaolin kung fu to the masses.


"Golden Leg" Fung, a Hong Kong soccer star, beats and berates his teammate Hung when the latter offers him a cheque to lose the game, claiming to be the middleman. Fung takes the cheque in the end and throws the game. Angry spectators beat him and break his leg.

Twenty years later, Fung walks with a limp and is the mistreated lackey of Hung, now a successful businessman. When Fung asks to coach Hung's soccer team, Hung mocks him and reveals he tricked him with a bad cheque and hired those who broke his leg. While drinking his sorrows in the streets, Fung comes across Sing, a Shaolin kung fu master who wants to promote the practical benefits of the martial art to the world. No one takes kung fu classes from Sing, however, as he is dirty and poor. He steals mantou from Mui, a woman with severe acne who uses Tai chi to make the food.

At first disdainful, Fung soon discovers the power of Sing's leg and offers to coach him in soccer. Compelled by the idea of promoting kung fu through soccer, Sing asks his former Shaolin brothers to join his team. Sing's brothers eventually agree. As a test, Fung arranges a game with a team known for vicious cheating. The thug team gives the Shaolin team a beating. When all seems lost, the Shaolin team members reawaken their powers and utilize them to defeat the other team. The thugs ask to join Sing's team. Sing takes Mui to try on expensive dresses at a high-end department store after hours and offers to buy her one. She gets a makeover to impress him, though the team and her boss mock her exaggerated '80s look. When Mui hints at her feelings for Sing, he tells her he only wants to be friends. She disappears after her boss fires her.

Team Shaolin enters the open cup competition in Hong Kong, where they see ridiculously one-sided victories due to their powers. They only meet their match in the final against Hung's Team Evil, who have superhuman strength and speed due to an American drug. The referee has also been bought out by Hung. Team Evil badly injures two of Team Shaolin's goalkeepers; the powerless members of Team Shaolin flee. As the team is about to lose by default, Mui, who has shaved her head, reappears to be their goalkeeper. When Team Evil's striker kicks the ball with flaming force towards Mui, she stops it with tai chi. She and Sing combine their skills and rocket the ball downfield. The ball blows through Team Evil's goal while hurling along all its players, scoring the sole and winning goal.

Later, Hung is imprisoned for doping, while the Team Evil players receive lifetime bans. Sing goes out for a jog and is pleased to see people around him using kung fu in their everyday lives, his lifelong dream having become a reality. A large ad on the side of a building shows that Sing and Mui, a famous couple, have won the world championship in bowling, among other things.


  • Stephen Chow as Sing / Mighty Steel Leg (#10):
    A Shaolin kung fu practitioner and former monk who wants to promote the martial arts form to the world. He is the team's striker and uses his extremely powerful legs to produce unstoppable soccer shots.
  • Ng Man-tat as Fung / Golden Leg:
    A homeless man and former soccer player from the 1980s who became crippled after being beaten by an angry mob after a match, which he deliberately lost after taking a bribe from Hung, the coach of Team Evil.
  • Wong Yat-fei as Iron Head (#11):
    The eldest of the Shaolin monk brothers, who is now working in a club. His style of kung fu utilizes his immensely hard head, and he specializes in headers during matches.
  • Mok Mei-lam as Hooking Leg (#2):
    The second eldest of the Shaolin monk brothers, who is now working as a dishwasher. As the team's full-back, Hooking Leg's Shaolin skills resemble ground tumbling boxing, which he uses to keep the ball away from the opponent and confuse them.
  • Tin Kai-man as Iron Shirt (#3):
    The third of the Shaolin monk brothers, who is now working as a businessman. As the team's full-back, Iron Shirt can absorb blunt force attacks without injuries, as well as hold and propel the ball with his abdomen.
  • Danny Chan Kwok-kwan as Empty Hand / Lightning Hand (#1):
    The fourth of the Shaolin monk brothers, who is now unemployed and job-hunting. Empty Hand resembles Bruce Lee to the point of wearing his yellow and black jumpsuit from Game of Death. As the team's goalkeeper, his fast hands and powerful arms allow him to instantly and accurately catch objects thrown at him.
  • Lam Chi-chung as Light Weight Vest (#6):
    The sixth and youngest of the Shaolin monk brothers, who has become obese and gluttonous after being diagnosed with a pituitary disease. He is the team's winger. Despite his illness, he is capable of utilizing his style of kung fu to leap incredible heights, giving the illusion of flight.
  • Zhao Wei as Mui:
    A baker and Sing's love interest, who is skilled at manipulating objects with tai chi. She rarely speaks Cantonese, but everyone else still understands her and vice versa.
  • Patrick Tse as Hung:
    The coach of Team Evil and Fung's former teammate, who has maintained a rivalry with Fung after forcing him to take a bribe during a match in the 1980s.
  • Shik Zi-yun as Team Evil's striker (#9), who can back flip and soar into the sky to kick a fiery ball to its target.
  • Cao Hua as Team Evil's goalkeeper (#21), who can guard his goalpost with one hand in his pocket. His incredibly strong hands can crush a thick metal crossbar.
  • Cecilia Cheung and Karen Mok as Team Dragon players #7 & #11, who can run so fast that they appear to be inches above the ground.
  • Fung Min-hun as the captain of Team Rebellion, a vicious mobster who wields a crescent wrench and steel mallet as weapons.
  • Vincent Kok as the captain of Team Tofu, the team that Team Shaolin faces in the preliminary match.



The inspiration for Shaolin Soccer came from Chow wanting a unique premise for a martial arts action film.[4] According to an interview with Premiere Magazine, Chow stated,

Actually the 'over the top' CG and kinetic soccer moves were an inspiration that came from the classic Japanese manga series Captain Tsubasa. The animation was very big in Hong Kong over ten years ago when it swept kids of all ages and even adults loved it. It has a cult following in Europe as well. But it was only possible with pen and ink back then, now with the advent of CGI, it can really be done....(the idea of combining it with Kung Fu was in my head for many years but we had to wait for the CG technology to mature)[5]

Chow had intended for this film to appeal to a global audience, stating, "I can't rely on the local market, because it's too small, so since Shaolin Soccer it's always my ambition to go international".[6]


Apart from several veteran actors, Chow stated in an interview with Premiere magazine that he cast several people in his entourage who had no prior acting experience before Shaolin Soccer. For example, Lam Chi Chung (Light Weight) had worked as Chow's screenwriter and Danny Chan Kwok-kwan (Empty Hand) was the dance choreographer hired to design the "Michael Jackson dance number" that followed Sing and Mui's first meeting early in the film. Chow comments he made Chan wear Bruce Lee's yellow-and-black tracksuit because only the goalkeeper "can wear a special uniform." Tin Kai-man (Iron Shirt) had been Chow's production manager on several movies, but had acted in numerous minor roles in previous films.[7] For instance, he played a young wanna-be Triad member in Chow's preceding movie, King of Comedy. Cecilia Cheung and Karen Mok, who briefly appear as Team Dragon Players 7 & 11 in Shaolin Soccer, had major roles in King of Comedy. Chow defends his decision to hire non-actors, saying, "In terms of finding talent, I try to bring out the funniest thing I notice about them during casting, if it made us laugh at the casting, it will also do on the big screen."[8]

Zhao Wei, who played the Mandarin-speaking Mui, said it was a different step for her to star in a Hong Kong production. However, Zhao admitted that she was not impressed with her look with less makeup because she is easily recognisable for her beautiful appearance.

Three of the principal cast members appeared in Chow's Kung Fu Hustle: Danny Chan Kwok-kwan (Empty Hand) portrayed Brother Sum, boss of the "Axe Gang"; Tin Kai-man (Iron Shirt) portrayed the loud-mouthed advisor of Brother Sum; and Lam Chi-chung (Light Weight) portrayed Bone, Chow's sidekick and partner in petty crime. Fung Min-hun (Team Rebellion Captain) briefly appeared as Cecilia Cheung's abusive boyfriend in King of Comedy and the Four Eyes Clerk who beats up both Sing and Bone when they make fun of him on the bus in Kung Fu Hustle.[9]

Home media[edit]

In Hong Kong, the film was released on DVD[10] and Video CD on 14 September 2001.[11] The DVD release was shortened by 10 minutes, with the option for viewers to access the deleted scenes in the middle of the film. The scenes deleted from the DVD version are the dance sequence in front of Mui's bakery, much of the conversation over Mui's makeover and the blooper reel before the end credits. Viewers can also access the making of key special effects scenes as well.

The film was also released in UMD format for the Sony PSP on 23 December 2005.[12]

The 2004 US DVD release by Miramax Films deleted 23 minutes of footage from the original cut; the omitted footage includes "Golden Leg" Fung's flashback opening sequence and Sing's interactions with Mui. This version features an English dub with Chow dubbing his own voice and Bai Ling as the voice of Mui. In addition, the DVD gives viewers the option to play the original Hong Kong version.[13]

In the UK, the film was released on Blu-ray by Optimum Releasing on 26 January 2010.[14]

The Japanese version of the film was released by Pioneer LDC on 22 November 2002.[15] It was reissued by The Clockworks Group on 21 December 2003.[16]

The Italian dub of the film features the voices of professional footballers Damiano Tommasi (as Mighty Steel Leg Sing), Vincent Candela (as Empty Hand), Marco Delvecchio (as Iron Head), Siniša Mihajlović (as Hooking Leg), Giuseppe Pancaro (as Iron Shirt) and Angelo Peruzzi (as Light Weight Vest).


Box office[edit]

At the Hong Kong box office, Shaolin Soccer grossed HK$60,739,847, making it the highest-grossing film in the region's history at the time. It held the record until 2004 when it was topped by Stephen Chow's next feature Kung Fu Hustle. Shaolin Soccer earned a worldwide gross of US$42,776,760.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 89% approval rating based on 95 reviews; the average rating is 7.10/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "The plot is utterly ridiculous, and the soccer in the movie is unlike any ever played anywhere on Earth, but watching Shaolin Soccer, you will probably find it impossible to care."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 68 out of 100 based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[18]

China ban[edit]

The film's director Stephen Chow disagreed with the CCP's National Radio and Television Administration, which was concerned that the film's title would insult Buddhists. Chow refused to change the title to Kungfu Soccer, and the film's producer was banned from shooting in mainland China for one year.[19]


Awards & Nominations
Award Category Nominee Result Ref.
Blue Ribbon Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won
2nd Chinese Film Media Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Stephen Chow Nominated
Best Actress Zhao Wei Nominated
38th Golden Horse Awards Best Action Choreography Ching Siu-tung Won
Best Visual Effects Centro Digital Pictures Ltd. Won
7th Golden Bauhinia Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director Stephen Chow Won
Best Supporting Actor Wong Yat-fei Won
21st Hong Kong Film Awards Best Picture Won
Best Director Stephen Chow Won
Best Young Director Stephen Chow Won
Best Screenplay Stephen Chow
Tsang Kan-cheung
Best Actor Stephen Chow Won
Best Supporting Actor Wong Yat-fei Won
Best Action Choreography Ching Siu-tung Nominated
Best Cinematography Kwan Pak-suen
Kwong Ting-wo
Best Costume & Make Up Design Choi Yim-man Nominated
Best Editing Hai Kit-Wai Nominated
Best Sound Effect Kinson Tsang Won
Best Visual Effect Frankie Chung
Ken Law
Ronald To
Best Original Film Score Raymond Wong Nominated
Best Original Film Song Kick to the Future (song)
Jacky Chan (composer)
Andy Lau (lyricist/performer)
Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards Best Picture Won

Media adaptations[edit]

Comic books[edit]


The first of a four volume Shaolin Soccer manhua was published in Hong Kong roughly nine months after the film originally premiered in 2001. The characters were drawn with large manga-like eyes and cartoonish bodies, but the artists were careful to retain the likenesses of each actor who portrayed them.[20][21]


ComicsOne approached noted comic book artist Andy Seto with the idea of creating a two volume manhua-style graphic novel adaptation of the feature film. Seto attached himself to the project because the film was very popular and, therefore, had "a certain level of marketing value".[22] The project was officially announced on 30 June 2003 and the release of vol. 1 was scheduled to coincide with the film's US premiere in August, but the film was pushed back.[23] The Miramax film corporation bought the American film rights to Shaolin Soccer before its release in China,[24] so they helped publish the comic book along with two Chinese film companies who originally produced the film.[25] Volumes 1 (ISBN 1-58899-318-3) and 2 (ISBN 1-58899-319-1) were released in August and November 2003 and sold for US$13.95 each. Their suggested reading level was age 13 and above.[25][26]

Seto worked to make the novel as faithful to the film as possible but he admits that Stephen Chow's brand of Mo lei tau comedy does not translate well into illustrations.[22] He stated in an interview that "the Shaolin Soccer comic is 80% movie adaptation with 20% new content."[22] This new content includes a backstory about Steel Leg's training in Shaolin before the death of his master, as well as completely rewriting entire sections of the movie. For example, in the film a group of bar thugs beat up Sing and Iron Head after listening to their lounge-style tribute to Shaolin kung fu. The following day, Sing seeks out the group and uses his Shaolin skills to beat the thugs using a soccer ball. Fung sees the brawl and comes up with the idea of fusing kung fu and soccer. However, in the comic book, Sing is meditating in the park when he gets hit in the head with a soccer ball. The cocky players mock him and destroy a stone statue of his deceased master. Sing proceeds to use the soccer ball as a weapon.

Another example is the fact the characters are visually different from the film. All of their comic book personas look to be in their twenties to thirties, with highly toned athletic physiques (with the exception of Light Weight); even Iron Head, who was the eldest of the six brothers, appears younger than he should.

Several online reviews have criticised the American adaptation for its apparent lack of story line coherence, mixture of realistic and cartoonish drawing styles, and bad Chinese-to-English translation, among other issues. In regards to the translation, one reviewer stated, "It's almost as if the book was translated with a first-year English student referencing a Chinese-to-English dictionary, with strangely assembled sentences and strange bursts of dialogue peppering the pages."[27] Another common complaint was that the comics seemed to be geared towards those people who had previously seen the movie. Without this familiarity, a newcomer would lose track of the storyline because of the overcrowded pages and rapidly shifting plot.[27][28][29]


See also[edit]

Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Brothers" here does not mean biological brothers, but "master-brothers", aka fellow disciples in martial arts under the same master. Therefore the "biggest brother" is the first one to be adopted by his mentor (the "master-father"), not necessarily the oldest one.


  1. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 November 2004. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Shaolin Soccer (2004)". The Numbers.
  3. ^ a b Shaolin Soccer at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ Sardet, Yoann (19 August 2002). ""Shaolin soccer" : Stephen Chow au micro!". AlloCiné (in French). Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  5. ^ Lootens, Kristin (6 December 2003). "Q&A: Stephen Chow – Page 2". Premiere.com. Archived from the original on 27 May 2008.
  6. ^ Gilchrist, Todd (20 April 2005). "Interview: Stephen Chow". IGN. Retrieved 4 April 2019.
  7. ^ Chen, Ross. "Tin Kai-Man". LoveHKfilm.com. Retrieved 24 March 2009.
  8. ^ Lootens, Kristin (6 December 2003). "Q&A: Stephen Chow". Premiere.com. Archived from the original on 13 December 2007. Retrieved 25 March 2009.
  9. ^ Pollard, Mark (22 August 2005). "Kung Fu Hustle (2004)". Kung Fu Cinema. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. Retrieved 25 March 2009.
  10. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (Extended Version) (Hong Kong Version) DVD". YESASIA.com.
  11. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (Extended Version) VCD". YESASIA.com.
  12. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (UMD Video For PSP) (Hong Kong Version)". YESASIA.com.
  13. ^ Patrizio, Andy (17 August 2004). "Shaolin Soccer: The goofy goodness finally comes to DVD". IGN. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  14. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (2001) (Blu-ray) (UK Version)". YESASIA.com.
  15. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (Japan Version)". YESASIA.com.
  16. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' (International Version) (Japan Version)". YESASIA.com.
  17. ^ Shaolin Soccer at Rotten Tomatoes
  18. ^ Shaolin Soccer at Metacritic Edit this at Wikidata
  19. ^ "HK$300 million funded to develop local film industry". MOFCOM. 6 July 2007. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011.
  20. ^ "赵薇俏丽可人--漫画版《少林足球》造型曝光" [Zhao Wei is pretty and charming--the comic version of "Shaolin Soccer" is revealed]. SINA.com (in Chinese). 26 October 2001.
  21. ^ "《少林足球》漫画第二册:周星驰有型赵薇可爱" ["Shaolin Soccer" Book II: Zhou Xingchi has a style, Zhao Wei is cute]. SINA.com (in Chinese). 25 December 2001.
  22. ^ a b c Podvin, Thomas (August 2003). "Kung fu comic creator / Interview with Andy Seto". HKcinemagic. Archived from the original on 29 June 2007.
  23. ^ "Cult Film 'Shaolin Soccer' To Get Comic Adaptation". Comic Book Resources. 30 June 2003.
  24. ^ "'Shaolin Soccer' Scores Winner at HK Film Awards". People's Daily Online. 22 April 2002.
  25. ^ a b Seto, Andy (2003). Shaolin Soccer (Vol. 1). Fremont, CA: ComicsOne Corp. ISBN 1-58899-318-3.
  26. ^ Seto, Andy (2003). Shaolin Soccer (Vol. 2). Fremont, CA: ComicsOne Corp. ISBN 1-58899-319-1.
  27. ^ a b McElhatton, Greg. "Shaolin Soccer Vol. 1". Icomics.com. Archived from the original on 26 March 2006.
  28. ^ Lander, Randy. "Shaolin Soccer #1". The Fourth Rail. Archived from the original on 11 September 2007.
  29. ^ "Shaolin Soccer Vol. 1". The Ticker.[permanent dead link]
  30. ^ "In Their Elements" (September 2006). Nick Mag Presents, p. 6.
  31. ^ "世杯球场上映《少林足球" ['Shaolin Soccer' screened at the World Cup Stadium]. China Review News Agency (in Chinese). 22 June 2006. Archived from the original on 13 February 2010.
  32. ^ "Hong Kong Superstar Stephen Chow Unveils Exciting International Production: 'Shaolin Women's Soccer'". The ASEAN Daily. 22 June 2023. Retrieved 3 October 2023.
  33. ^ Wright, Edgar (23 March 2012). "The 10 best sports movies ever made, by a non-sports fan". The Independent. Retrieved 18 November 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Leong, Anthony (2003). "Shaolin Soccer". Asian Cult Cinema. 38 (1st quarter): 8–11.

External links[edit]