Most people believe that shaolin kung-fu skills have few applications in mundane, everyday life. But if the pleasingly crazy Hong Kong comedy Shaolin Soccer is to be believed, they're wrong: Early on, director and star Stephen Chow illustrates how shaolin might have helped a struggling hedge-trimmer, a woman tripping on a banana peel, and even a driver trying to squeeze a car into a tight space. Chow's menial job as an itinerant can-collector doesn't exactly help his case, but his ability to kick a soccer ball above the clouds certainly does. In Shaolin Soccer, what goes down seldom stays down, and what goes up might never fall.
Joining Chow at the bottom is Man Tat Ng, a former soccer great who's lived in shame ever accepting a bribe to blow a big game, and subsequently getting crippled by an angry mob. (Of course, anyone casting his lot with a bunch that calls itself "Team Evil" should probably expect trouble.) Though initially reluctant, Ng eventually teams up with Chow to put together a ragtag bunch of former shaolin disciples (with names like "Iron Head" and "Hooking Leg") to enter a big soccer tournament. Soon, they discover just how well soccer and kung-fu mix, defying physics and logic as they bounce the ball at impossible angles and kick it so hard that it catches fire. (Shaolin gets frequent assistance from budget-level CGI effects.) In his downtime, Chow romances a sweet woman (Vicki Zhao) with a horrifying skin condition that clears up as her mood improves. She uses shaolin kung-fu, as well—to make dumplings.
An Eastern variation on the "there's no rule that says a mule can't play football" formula, the ridiculously entertaining Shaolin Soccer pulls out all the stops to make sure viewers stay happy. When the shaolin athletes bounce a ball off their opponents, it makes the sound of a pinball hitting bumpers. This qualifies as one of the film's subtler touches. Only the terminally joyless will likely be able to resist Shaolin Soccer, but following Chow's logic, there's probably a shaolin fix for that, too.