As you would expect from its title and director, Shaolin Soccer plays out like a comedy-Wuxia sports movie.
Sing is a young Shaolin master who wants to spread the benefits of kung fu to the modern world -- with little success (even on a song-and-dance routine). Then he meets a disgraced and crippled former soccer star, "Golden Leg" Fung, who is now working as an errand boy for Hung, his ex-teammate responsible for the Game-Breaking Injury that cut short his promising career. Initially unimpressed by Sing, Fung soon discovers Sing's unique trait: a kick strong enough to bring down a brick wall and send a beer can flying miles into the air.
Both men reach a consensus to form a football team specializing in shaolin, each with a mutual purpose: Fung seeks revenge upon Hung, while Sing uses the sport as a vessel for his discipline. To this end the latter sets about finding his five brothers, all possessors of unique physical strengths, but have since given up on shaolin and are in similarly disgraced predicaments as Fung. After initially rejecting Sing's pleas, the brothers get together to form Team Shaolin. They also proceed to wow the members of Team Rebellion, a gang of bullies led by a member of the mob, with their skills, recruiting them to their cause.
Fung enters the team in the China Super Cup in Hong Kong, where they run into Team Evil, a steroid-fueled team headed by none other than Hung, who is also using his position as chairman of the National Soccer League to rig the tournament in his favor.
Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow directed the movie and played the main character. The movie became the highest-grossing film in Hong Kong's history in 2001 and won the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor awards at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Funny, over the top, slapstick, and filled with amazing CGI effects, it was the first Stephen Chow film that gained the attention of mainstream Western audiences.
- Acrofatic: Little Brother, the fat one, can basically fly.
- Adam Westing: Patrick Tse Yin, a '60s screen idol better known now for Adam Westing, as Hung.
- All Your Evil Combined: Team Evil's ultimate move is pumping the soccer ball with a crapload of dark energy.
- Bare-Fisted Monk: Technically they all are, but Empty Hand fits this trope best.
- Battle Aura: Explosions of fire as each of the six brothers remember who they are.
- Beautiful All Along: Double Subverted. Mui, originally a rather ugly girl with terrible acne, gets a makeover in hopes of attracting Sing. She ends up with streetwalker-thick makeup, hair straight out of The Eighties and shoulder pads. Eventually she goes through a second transformation where she gives up the makeup, shaves her head bald... and looks better than ever, in time for a Heroic Second Wind against Team Evil.
- Berserk Button: Do not touch Little Brother's eggs.
- Black and White Morality: Team Shaolin is good. Team Evil is bad.
- Break the Haughty/Game-Breaking Injury: How Fung ended up a cripple.
- Bruce Lee Clone: Empty Hand, who wears Lee's signature yellow tracksuit while tending goal. The actor playing him is a close friend of Stephen Chow, who tries to cast him in all of his movies for this exact reason. He's actually a choreographer who came up with the dance sequence. Bruce himself was a champion Cha-cha dancer.
- Clothing Damage: Happens several times, either to show that serious injury is occurring or for comedic effect.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hung, president of the National Soccer League and manager of Team Evil, who ensures that all are drugged to maximum performance.
- Deleted Scene: The Miramax American release deleted about 30 minutes worth of scenes from the original theatrical release, making the movie more confusing as a result. Fortunately, the DVD offers the option to see either the edited American dub or the original with English subtitles.
- Dragons Up the Yin-Yang: Mui traces a taijitu while making buns. This serves to set her apart as a Taoist Tai Chi practitioner, as opposed to the Buddhist Shaolin monks. She also speaks Mandarin. The whole thing is to pay tribute to all of China's religious and martial-arts traditions.
- Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Sing constantly points out a few people that would have less trouble with their lives if they just knew shaolin kung fu. After defeating Team Evil, Sing and Mui were last seen walking amongst a crowd now using kung fu to solve mundane problems. In the English dub, the song that plays in the background is a cover of "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas.
- Everything's Better with Spinning: The more spinning before a strike, the more powerful it becomes. No exceptions. Team Evil's most powerful attack involves spinning the ball at preposterous speeds so that it absorbs a giant black dragon. How do you counteract such a spin-powered strike? MORE SPINNING.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin - Shaolin monks playing soccer. Any questions? Additionally, with a name like "Team Evil" you know what to expect right off the bat.
- Excuse Me While I Multitask: When Mui fends off her angry boss.
- Extremity Extremist: The premise of Mighty Steel Leg and Hooking Leg's styles.
- Face Palm: When Mui first takes the field... only to wind up on Team Evil's goal position.
- Failed Attempt At Drama: Mui as the new goalie makes a dramatic entrance and walks into the goal post... of Team Evil.
- Girls with Moustaches: Two of the female soccer players have fake facial hair.
- Hard Head - "Iron Head", eldest of the Shaolin monks, gifted with a seemingly impervious cranium. His abusive boss repeatedly breaks bottles over his head to chastise his poor performance, with no effect.
- Heads-Tails-Edge: One of the ex-monks states that their chances of winning the soccer tournament are the same as the coin landing on its side. A little later he drops it. Guess where it lands.
- The Hopeless Replacement: In the last few minutes of the final match against Team Evil, Team Shaolin is short of one goalie, and will be forced to forfeit unless they find a a replacement. Cue Mui, shaved bald and in tai chi robes, stopping an enemy strike and pulling off a Combination Attack with Sing for the winning goal.
- Idiot Hero: Sing takes the kung fu ideal of earnestness and straightforwardness a bit too far.
- Important Haircut: Mui gets two haircuts at critical points. First she tries to impress Sing, but she looks terrible. Then she shaves her head when she joins Team Shaoling as replacement goalie. Somehow the makeover reveals that she's Beautiful All Along. Sing also gets to make jokes about it.
"Why did you cut your hair like an alien? Go back to Mars! Earth is very dangerous!"
- Instant Cosplay Surprise: Fung ends up wearing Shaolin Monk gear and a beard during Sing's speech.
- The Jimmy Hart Version: Averted with the band at Iron Head's workplace playing "California Dreaming".
- Kung Fu Sonic Boom: So many examples. A player exhibiting an aura turning into a puma, a ball turning into flames, a kick uprooting most of the soccer field and literally blowing away a player or an entire team.
- Large Ham: Patrick Tse Yin as Hung, who even out-chews Sing and Fung. Also see Adam Westing above.
- Laser-Guided Karma: After his humiliating defeat to Team Shaolin, Hung is removed as president of the National Soccer League and gets a five-year prison term for drugging Team Evil, whose members are now permanently banned from professional competition.
- Made of Iron: It's called Iron Vest style for a reason.
- Martial Arts and Crafts: Sing and his brothers play football with kung fu. Mui uses tai chi when baking. In the epilogue, martial arts in basically used for everything (including car parking).
- Mirror Boss: Team Evil's players have most of the same abilities as the monks.
- Misfit Mobilization Moment: When Team Shaolin advances up the tournament ladder.
- Mundane Utility: Sing believes that kung fu is relevant in this modern age because you can use Chi Blasts to help parallel park. The movie ends with a woman doing just that, as well as other people using Wuxia-style Kung-fu in their daily lives. In the American release, this last scene is set to a remix of "Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting".
- Mui uses tai-chi to bake taijibread.
- Naked People Are Funny: The Team Evil goalie at the end.
- Obviously Evil: In some English translations, the opposing team is actually called Team Evil. Their name is more subtly evil in the original language.
- Opposing Sports Team: Team Shaolin trains in martial arts to improve their lives as well as their playing ability. Team Evil uses soulless technology and steroids to improve performance.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: While advancing through the tournament, Team Shaolin faces off against Team Dragon, whose two star players are women with obviously fake moustaches stuck on their faces. Both are Hong Kong pop celebrities Cecilia Cheung and Karen Mok, who are former female leads of Chow's movies.
- Putting the Band Back Together: Sing had to track down his old training buddies to reunite and begin practicing kung fu again. Most of them are working in menial jobs and are unmotivated.
- Science Is Useless: Team Shaolin defeats the steroid-taking Team Evil in the end -- achieved by a shaven Mui's timely appearance and her tai chi skills. One short segment where Team Shaolin nearly score a goal shows that they almost certainly would have won had Hung not rigged the match so his Team Evil could just brutalize Team Shaolin.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Team Rebellion's coach cuts and runs after Team Shaolin reawakens their dormant skills, mops the field, and convinces his players to defect to Sing's side.
- Empty Hand, Team Shaolin's goalkeeper, is a very obvious one to Bruce Lee, right down to the yellow jumpsuit. What makes it funny is that originally he was the choreographer brought in for the dance sequence.
- The film contains plenty of Shout Outs to Hong Kong TV and film. For example, Team Dragon's obviously mustachioed female star players are a parody of countless comedies where pretty females don a fake mustache and everyone thinks she's a guy; at the end the lady who slips but then does a handstand flip back onto her feet and flicks her long hair before walking past Sing has the exact slowmotion-fastmotion-slowmotion take as a well-known shampoo commercial from the 90s.
- For the moment when Mui blocks Team Evil's ball, someone decided to make the music "King of Pride Rock" for whatever reason.
- Shrinking Violet: Mui is unattractive, constantly mumbling, withdrawn and eventually pulls out of public life to become a nun. Until the final showdown, when she appears, bald-headed, Beautiful All Along, and, with Sing, pulls off a yin-yang combo of tai chi and shaolin to utterly defeat Team Evil.
- Super Strength: Most of Team Shaolin and all of Team Evil's players exhibit this.
- Throw It In: Chow's Signature Style at work -- see if you can spot all the outtakes that make it into the actual movie.
- Unnecessary Roughness
- On two instances, players deliberately try to break an opposing player's leg.
- Team Rebellion's entire playing style is built around simply beating up the Shaolin team. The captain even has wrenches hidden in his shorts, which keep falling out before the game even begins.
- Team Evil's play causes some rather serious injuries on Team Shaolin's players.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Team Evil gets plenty of chances to rack up the goals, but opt to inflict injuries on Team Shaolin instead.