On September 5, Miramax will whiff its sixth reported release date for Hong Kong filmmaker-star Stephen Chow’s Shaolin Soccer (2001). Some HK cinema buffs are flashing the yellow card. Me, I’m in favor of Miramax never releasing Shaolin Soccer—or rather, I discern a certain beauty in their habitual release-date dodging. Chow’s tale of down-and-out kung-fu-sters who form a soccer squad and use their special powers to defeat the drug-amplified Evil Team is enjoyable, crammed with wild action, crude humor, and playful F/X. But maybe now is the wrong time for it. Maybe it will always be the wrong time for it.
To understand the appeal of not releasing Shaolin, consider that Miramax is also sitting on another popular Chinese film, Zhang Yimou’s rapturous Hero, the most Borgesian martial arts film I’ve ever seen. Assassination plots, lies, and memories swirl in the near-empty palace of the Qin emperor—the same one who (Borges notes) ordered the burning of all the books and began the Great Wall. The emperor is perplexed by one of the cultures he’s eager to steamroll, which possesses 19 words for sword when one will do. If the plurality of versions is laudable, is Miramax somehow forced to play the part of Hero‘s unifying (read: standardizing) emperor—or the power-mad coach of Shaolin‘s robotic Evil Team? If so, aren’t we better off with our ragtag Chinatown bootlegs, all iffy subtitles and varying picture quality?
Speaking to Singapore’s Straits Times, Chow seems puzzled by Miramax’s decision: “There’s one thing I don’t get. This movie was popular everywhere it was shown and made big bucks for its distributors. But they changed the opening day five times in America. It might be the company’s strategy.” Of course. Surely this constant date-bouncing, nudging the release forward by months at a time, is meant as a counterpart to the most crucial and beautiful maneuver in the game of soccer—the fieldwide pass. Hiromi Kawanishi, a Miramax publicity VP, told me, “As soon as we have a firm release date, I will advise.” In other words—to mimic the cheerful lawn-lasses in Bend It Like Beckham, this summer’s cleat-clogged little import that could: “Laters!”