[ENTERTAINMENT]A kung-fu and soccer movie? Play on

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[ENTERTAINMENT]A kung-fu and soccer movie? Play on

Jung Mong-jun, the president of the Korean Soccer Association, is just about the busiest person in town with the World Cup soccer games coming up. But last Thursday afternoon he had time to enjoy himself. At about 4:15 p.m., he rolled up in a black sedan at the Star Six Jeongdong Theater in central Seoul, and went to see a movie. Being quite popular among the public, with an image of a sharp gentleman, Mr. Jung was immediately surrounded by crowds of people, mostly women.

After he was able to get into the theater, he sat down and enjoyed the 111-minute movie. But the movie wasn't exactly a diversion -- it was about soccer. He saw "Shaolin Soccer" (2001), also known as "Kung-Fu Soccer." And Mr. Jung was not alone -- many celebrities were at the screening, including former star soccer players, TV actresses and the lawmaker Jang Young-dal. It was a special screening for "World Cup VIPs" arranged by the distributors of the movie.

Directed by Stephen Chow, who also plays the lead role, the film has comedy, action and a dash of romance. It is, in short, a nonsensical but hilarious mixture of soccer and martial arts. Sing (Chow) is a kung-fu practitioner with a fervent ambition to succeed at the discipline, but he does not live up to his dreams. One day, he meets "Golden Leg" Fung, an old-time star soccer player, who is now hobbled by injuries and as frustrated as Sing. Fung trains Sing and his brothers, all kung-fu masters, to play soccer, but they use their martial arts skills all the while, and become very good. The team goes on to compete in a tournament with a $1 million prize.

Using special effects with computer graphics, the film is full of surrealistic scenes that verge on the absurd. Sing kicks off and the ball soars to the sky and doesn't fall to the ground for a good hour. The players perform aerial stunts and the balls they kick blaze ?on fire ?past the posts.

The film was first released in Hong Kong, and topped box office charts there.

Chow came to Korea recently to promote the movie. He missed a news conference in Seoul because he had been honored just days before with Hong Kong's version of an Academy Award, a Hong Kong Film Award. So Chow came to Korea a day late, and hungover.

He was sober enough, however, to explain why he made the film in such a strange way. "We learn that reality is not all about happiness," he said. "Why should movies be about something unhappy, if we are unhappy already?"

Judging by Mr. Jung's reaction to the movie, Chow succeeded on that point, for Mr. Jung laughed throughout the whole running time.

The film is set to debut May 17 in local theaters, and Miramax will release it internationally soon after.

"Shaolin Soccer" isn't the only movie being shown in anticipation of the World Cup. A three-dimensional animated film, "Spherics," produced by FIFA and starring the games' mascots -- Ato, Nik and Kaz -- will be screened on Saturdays this month at the Lotte World theater in southern Seoul. For more information on screening schedules for "Spherics," call 02-411-2000 (Korean only).

by Chun Su-jin

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