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[FILM] Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field

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  • chiayuan25
    Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field By DAVE KEHR Published: April 5, 2004 The New York Times Although he is assumed to be the highest paid actor
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2004
      Fearlessly Taking Martial Arts to the Soccer Field
      By DAVE KEHR
      Published: April 5, 2004
      The New York Times

      Although he is assumed to be the highest paid actor in Asian film,
      Stephen Chow remains largely unknown in the United States, a
      situation that should change now that his worldwide hit of
      2001, "Shaolin Soccer," opened over the weekend in New York and Los
      Angeles to generally favorable reviews.

      "I can't name any other actors in Hong Kong who are able to make the
      films they star in and control them," said Roger Garcia, a former
      director of the Hong Kong Film Festival. "He's at the top of the

      "Shaolin Soccer," which Mr. Chow wrote, directed, produced, edited
      and starred in, is a broadly funny parody of the genre he and
      millions of spectators throughout Eastern Asia love best: the martial
      arts adventure. It is Mr. Chow's conceit that the ancient kung-fu
      skills have become largely irrelevant in the modern world. How much
      call is there for someone who can use his stomach muscles to grip and
      hurl small objects, or who weighs over 300 pounds but can walk on
      air, or who can use his "golden leg technique" to kick a soda can
      halfway across Hong Kong, where it ends up lodged deep in a brick

      Sing, Mr. Chow's character in the film, is a martial arts champion of
      the legendary Shaolin Temple school who realizes that, given the
      dearth of evil Imperial Guards to pummel in contemporary China, such
      arcane talents as his may be more than useful on a soccer field.
      Gathering his brothers and some former classmates, he organizes a
      group of lovable misfits who use their special skills to rise through
      the ranks of Hong Kong teams. Eventually they confront the nefarious
      brotherhood, the Evil Team, made up of steroid-enhanced athletes
      sponsored by a local gangster.

      "When I was a kid, I absolutely believed that all of these skills
      existed," Mr. Chow said in a recent interview over a hamburger in a
      TriBeCa restaurant. "I looked all over for a school that I could join
      so that I could learn these skills and protect myself and my family.
      Even now I don't know if it's true that these skills really exist,
      but I would like to think so."

      "I was a normal person from a normal Hong Kong family," Mr. Chow
      said. He was born in Hong Kong in 1961 as Chow Sing Chi, the name he
      is still known by in Asia. (It is sometimes anglicized as "Chiau,"
      but "Chow" remains his preference.) "I went to a normal school and
      had a normal after-school job, working as an office assistant. I
      started thinking about my future. I had no special ability, so what
      can I do? But I had been interested in acting since I saw a Bruce Lee
      movie for the first time, when I was around 14. I wanted to practice
      kung fu like Bruce Lee did, and maybe I could become an actor, too.
      Acting and kung fu are the same thing for me, with the same

      Mr. Chow enrolled in an after-hours program for would-be actors,
      though he was often told that, at 5 foot 6, he was too small to be a
      leading man. The training did lead to a job as host of a kiddie show
      called "430 Space Shuttle," on which his partner was the future star
      Tony Leung ("In the Mood for Love"). During the show's four
      successful years, Mr. Chow developed the high-speed, freely
      associative patter style that his fans call "mo lei tau,"
      or "nonsense talk," still an important, if usually untranslatable,
      component of his comic personality.

      After a few supporting roles, in 1990 Mr. Chow landed the lead
      in "All for the Winner," a film that parodied what was then a highly
      popular series of Hong Kong features starring Chow Yun-Fat as a
      sophisticated gambler. Playing against Chow Yun-Fat's polished, self-
      assured manner, Mr. Chow took the role of a country bumpkin, just
      arrived in Hong Kong from the mainland sticks, whose mysterious
      ability to see through playing cards proves most useful to his greedy
      Hong Kong uncle (Ng Man Tat, Mr. Chow's sidekick in almost all of his
      films since then).

      "What made him popular at first was his silly language tricks with
      the Cantonese dialect," said Barbara Scharres, the director of the
      Gene Siskel Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago and an
      authority on Hong Kong film. "But what struck me was that he was
      making some social comments on the Hong Kong transition to Chinese
      rule, as it was coming up in 1997. He often plays the greenhorn who
      comes to Hong Kong from the mainland and is overwhelmed. He was
      extremely observant, able to capture the essence of the new
      immigrants in ways that were both funny and mean."

      "All for the Winner" contained another element that became a key part
      of Mr. Chow's screen personality. To parody a star like Chow Yun-Fat
      was an unusual element of disrespect, of rebelliousness and comic
      anarchy in Hong Kong's tradition-bound film industry. Mr. Chow
      developed his style in a frenetic series of films. He made 10 other
      movies in 1990 and 8 in 1991, including the hit "Fight Back to
      School," in which he played an undercover cop in a high school. He
      blended his nonsense talk, his wisecracking and his martial arts
      ability into a new kind of comic character, Hong Kong's first
      professional smart aleck.

      "That's always my character," Mr. Chow said. "In reality I am nothing
      like that." In person he comes across as shy and apprehensive, though
      his laugh is loud and spontaneous. His perfectionism is much on
      display in "Shaolin Soccer," a film that makes perhaps the best comic
      use of computer-generated images since "The Mask" with Jim Carrey in
      1994, a movie that greatly influenced Mr. Chow. Mr. Carrey has since
      returned the compliment: 20th Century Fox has purchased "God of
      Cookery," a 1996 Stephen Chow film, for a Jim Carrey remake.

      "It is difficult to improvise with digital effects," Mr. Chow
      said. "For example there was no soccer ball at all when we were
      acting. We would just kick the air and react to each other as if we
      were playing. It requires very exact timing and control. There's no
      way to recognize that when you play the tape back on the set, so you
      just shoot it and send it in. And if the computer guy says there's
      something wrong with the timing, you just shoot it all over again."

      "Shaolin Soccer" was scheduled to open last summer, but was delayed
      while Miramax, the company that owns the American rights, tested a
      dubbed version for general audiences. Eventually the company decided
      to go with a subtitled print of the film some 20 minutes shorter than
      the version released in Hong Kong.

      Meanwhile Mr. Chow has finished shooting another movie, he said on
      the phone from Hong Kong last week. Titled "Kung Fu Hustle" and
      produced by Sony Pictures, it is set in Canton in the 1940's and
      finds Mr. Chow as an aspiring gangster who hides his fear behind
      verbal bluster.

      "It's an action comedy," Mr. Chow said. "Kung fu, but without the
      flying and swords thing, a more traditional view of martial arts.
      Bruce Lee was power and speed and flexibility. That's the feeling I
      want this time."

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