Director: Jeffrey Lau
Cast: Gillian Chung, Charlene Choi, He Jiong, Joey Yung, Patrick Tam
Runtime: 1 hr 24 mins
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 6 July 2017
Synopsis: During the Song Dynasty, a Mongolian soccer team made up of freaks with superpowers kill soldiers from the opposing country under the guise of a match. The defeated are forced to give up their land. One day, the Mongolians publicly challenge the Song to a match. The Song Emperor loves his citizens greatly, and is left with no choice but to accept the challenge. A nationwide competition is held to scout for the best players. Princess Chang Ping, determinedly patriotic, leaves the palace to form a soccer team comprising of the eight greatest martial arts sects…
Two decades after it was first released, ‘A Chinese Odyssey Part Two: Cinderella’ was re-released in Mainland cinemas earlier this year with about ten minutes of additional footage. By the time it ended its month-long run, the Stephen Chow cult classic had become the top-grossing re-release ever. Despite critics’ decrying it as a blatant cash grab that adds little to the original cut’s interpretation, audiences were seemingly unfazed, demonstrating just how much love there is for Chow as well as the ‘mo-lei-tau’ brand of wacky anachronistic period comedy which he and writer-director Jeffrey Lau patented in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And yet ironically, the greater your sense of nostalgia, the more you will be disappointed by Lau’s attempts in the past few years to recapture the same comedic spirit. From 2010’s ‘Just Another Pandora’s Box’ to 2011’s ‘East Meets West 2011’ to 2014’s ‘Just Another Margin’ and right up to last year’s in-name only sequel ‘A Chinese Odyssey Part Three’, not one has come close to matching the genius of Lau’s earlier films.
His latest, titled ‘Soccer Killer’, unfortunately belongs more to the former than the latter. Written and directed by Lau, it tells of how Princess Changping (Gillian Chung) of the Song Dynasty recruits the masters of the eight once-glorious martial arts sects to play in a soccer match against a formidable team named the Eagle Claws under the charge of the Mongolian barbarian Leopard Khan. At stake is the very sovereignty of the kingdom itself, no thanks to the corrupt Prime Minister Qin (played by Lau himself). As we learn from the prologue, no less than the likes of Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Storm, Cyclops, Spider-Man, Logan and Captain Fantastic make up the Eagle Claws; though we’re quite sure Marvel will be none too happy to learn what their band of superheroes have been doing in between blockbusters; by the time we get to the pivotal match, no less than the Monkey King, the Eight Immortals and Buddha will have come to the Song’s rescue – and that is fair warning of just how illogical you’ll have to prepare it will get in this spoof where anything goes.
Frankly, that isn’t a deterrent in and of itself; indeed, such silly, even nonsensical, humour has always been a defining feature of Lau’s comedies. What distinguishes the classics of the past from the ignominies of the more recent is the hilarity of the gags within, which this latest again comes up short. Among the three chapters the movie divides itself into, the most entertaining is in fact the first titled ‘The Phoenix becomes the Pheasant’, in reference to how Princess Changping sheds her image of royalty to adopt a male disguise in order to recruit the eight Sect masters. As it turns out, these masters – including Sword Master Guo Huaqiang (Corey Yuen), Palm Master Zhang Sanfeng (Li Jing), abbess Miejue (Stephy Tang) and abbot Master Yideng (Lam Tze Chung) – are but a pale shadow of their former glorious selves, and between them and the two disciples – Lang (He Jiong) and Ling (Charlene Choi) – of a ninth now-defunct Mount Mao Sect, there is plenty of good humour to be had spoofing the genre elements of the typical ‘wuxia’ film.
In comparison, the ensuing two chapters prove duller and a lot less inspired. The middle chapter titled ‘Finding True Love in Adversity’ develops a budding romance between Lang and Princess Changping as both are held captive at a remote mountain village after being kidnapped by a band of assassins who call themselves the Jiangdong 108; but their unlikely relationship has few laughs and little chemistry. A running gag sees Lang introduce the villagers to Super Barbie inflatable dolls which become instant playmates for the children as well as companions for the grown-up males, but it is at best bemusing and never quite amusing. The obviously titled third chapter ‘Kingdom of Xianglong versus the Eagle Claws’ sees Prime Minister Qin exploit the romantic rivalry between Ling and Princess Changping for Lang’s affections, before culminating in an over-the-top duel between the aforementioned teams that stands out as a showcase of terrible CGI. Not even the references to Pandora’s Box can save the last act from being creatively bereft, nor for that matter the invocation of mythological Chinese characters for an eventual Eastern-meets-Western superheroes showdown.
Certainly, not the combined star power of the TWINS or the ‘Happy Camp’ hosts are a match for the powerhouse combo of Chow, Athena Chu, Karen Mok, Ng Man-tat and Law Kar-ying, but that isn’t the main reason why ‘Soccer Killer’ is barely even a poor cousin of ‘A Chinese Odyssey’ – simply, it just isn’t as witty or as laugh-out-loud crazy as it should be. Lau himself seems to acknowledge the same at the obligatory happily-ever-after ending, with one of the palace servants reflecting on everything that has happened and telling his partner that it is no better than a stupid movie which should be quickly forgotten – though frankly, that’s hardly a tall order given how unmemorable the events within are. If for whatever reason you feel you have nothing better else to do and find yourself in the mood for some inanity however uninspired that may be, then ‘Soccer Killer’ is an 84-minute harmless time-killer you probably won’t mind.
(Hardly as witty or as laugh-out-loud crazy as it should be, Jeffrey Lau's part-martial arts, part-superhero spoof is nevertheless a harmless time-killer, provided you're in the mood for uninspired inanity)
Review by Gabriel Chong