No hands, Grasshopper

Shaolin Soccer

Rated 4.0

The good news: This wildly deranged Hong Kong import has finally made it to Chico. The bad news: It had to go through notoriously anti-purist Miramax first, who made with a bit of the chop-socky themselves, resulting in about 20 minutes of character development and “extreme” gags hitting the editing room floor (most egregiously, the wonderfully cathartic opening credits).

Convinced by a former soccer prodigy (dispirited under 20 years of disgrace after blowing a seemingly free shot in The Big Game) that the techniques of traditional Shaolin kung fu can be applied to championship soccer, a rag-tag team of former Shaolin Masters take to the field to (re)prove their worth. After some initial comedic misadventures, the team begins to come into its own; until the players meet their mentor’s nemesis on the field of The Big Game. Of course, the outcome is no surprise, but the path there is filled with many, Grasshopper.

There are plenty of time-outs for clever slapstick gags, a sly homage to American pop cinema and absurdist characterizations. Not to mention some serious, kick-ass soccer action.

Not necessarily a film for Hong Kong purists, in that it relies heavily on CGI effects rather than the honorable mutilate-yourself-for-a-stunt ethics of Jackie Chan, or even traditional wire-fu, the action still delivers in a whirlwind of phantasmagoric giddiness, a happy indulgence in the Chinese approach to magic realism.

If you’ve never been exposed to the cult of Hong Kong cinema, this is the perfect primer. If you’re a fan of the genre and yet have missed this gem (loser!), here is your chance to redeem yourself.