Shaolin Soccer Vol. 1

By Andy Seto
128 pages, color
Published by ComicsOne

For the past year or two, it’s been hard for me to escape the buzz around the upcoming American release of Hong Kong movie “Shaolin Soccer”. Actor Stephen Chow attended Comic-Con International last year and was reportedly amazed at how many people were not only aware of his movie, but avid fans. As the release date grows closer and closer, I find myself all the more intrigued and excited about this movie… so I was thrilled when I found out that ComicsOne was publishing Andy Seto’s comic adaptation of the movie as well. As far as I was considered, this was the perfect way to get a preview.

Sing is a master of the martial arts form known as Shaolin kung fu. Graduating from the famed Shaolin Temple, he wanders the streets penniless and trying to find a way to introduce the rest of the world to the wonders of Shaolin kung fu. A chance meeting on the street with former soccer great Mr. Fung makes Sing decide that the best way to do so is to create the world’s first Shaolin soccer team. Is the rest of world ready for the uniqueness of Shaolin soccer? And how can Sing assemble a team to compete in the big tournament?

Reading the first volume of Shaolin Soccer, all I could really come away with from the book was that it seemed to be aimed at people who’d already seen the movie. There’s no nicer way to look at this book, because otherwise it borders on incomprehensible. It’s almost as if the book was translated with a first-year English student referencing a Chinese-to-English dictionary, with strangely-assembled sentences and strange bursts of dialogue peppering the pages. In the second half of this first volume, things seem to go from bad to worse, with sudden cuts from one scene to the next in the blink of an eye. It’s at that point that I finally decided that this would have made a lot more sense if I’d seen the movie, because I’d already have filled in the blanks with my previously-acquired knowledge about the story.

Really, Shaolin Soccer Vol. 1’s main purpose seems to be to have Seto draw the best scenes of the movie in his trademark style. Unlike Seto’s gorgeous adaptation of the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon books, though, Shaolin Soccer lists a series of additional studio artists that worked on this book, and the numerous hands involved really shows. When Seto and his assistants that draw in the same style have the stage, you can’t get much better with martial-arts comics; watching Sing spin and flip through the air is almost like seeing the characters glide across the screen. It’s really impressive how well they’re able to catch the graceful movements that I’ve seen in previews for the film, and for a split-second you can see the real attraction of this comic. Then the comic suddenly shifts to a cartoonish, super-deformed style that clashes horribly with the rest of the book. I’m not sure what Seto was thinking; it doesn’t work at all and seems to be in direct defiance to the rest of the adaptation. Fortunately these strange shifts never last for an extended period of time, but even two and three pages at a time is too long.

I really wanted to like Shaolin Soccer; Seto did a really nice job with the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon graphic novels, so this should have been just as good. In the end, while it looks great at a casual glance, one kick of the soccer ball just reveals it to be half-deflated. The bad parts, unfortunately, keep the good parts from soaring through the air. Better luck next time.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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