Ever since the success of Stephen Chow's Shaollin Soccer in 2001, he's been asked time and again whether a sequel was in the works. There still isn't, but he sort of franchised the idea out to the Japanese and served as executive producer, so the outcome of the deal, was Shaolin Girl.
However, the net of it all is that while the intent for a quasi-sequel is there, having the Japanese play characters experts in the classic Chinese form of martial arts might seem a little wrong, just like how the hue and cry came about with Chinese characters portraying Japanese geishas. But if the source in contention was treated with respect, I guess there would be no qualms moving forward, though with the way things were treated here, you would've pondered whether it was done in jest, or in mockery.
For instance, the numerous Bruce Lee homage. Yes, we all know about all things yellow, so it's a no brainer here. But to have a lookalike come out as a villain, dressed in a white singlet, black pants and emulating Lee on the nunchuks, was a tad below the belt, especially the way he was disgracefully dispatched. A friend of mine said it was perhaps a kick in the face toward all the imitations and wannabes, but I'd like to think otherwise. The finale look straight out of Game of Death where our alpha-female do battle floor to floor encountering various martial arts masters, but come to think of it, they were dispatched with incredible ease. And don't get me started on the corridor of mirrors too, which served no purpose other than to show that the filmmakers can.
Lead actress Kou Shibasaki (from Crying Out Love In The Center of the World) in the titular role looks good and cute for the part in order to draw in the crowds, and granted she has no martial arts background (ala new female warrior Jeeja Yanin in Chocolate) she makes up for it with artificially choreographed grace that made her a little believable. What's not believable, was her ability to speak Chinese, and the Shaolin monks as well, because they are clearly Japanese, but had to pass off as experts in the language, which came off as unbearable and laughable.
You might think that director Katsuyuki Motohiro, with his Bayside Shakedown pedigree, would be deft at handling stories with multiple subplots. However, Shaolin Girl bitten off more than it could chew, and couldn't decide what it wanted to be. On one hand, it wanted to spread the love for Kung Fu, or specifically, the Shaolin brand of fist-fighting. On the other, it had to reflect on its supposed predecessor and fuse in a sport different from soccer (here it's Lacrosse). And it wanted to weave kung fu into the game, only to hold back to prevent itself from being a clone. So while you get a sport, there isn't much copycat kung-fu styles and stances, until the end credit roll when it became obvious.
Shaolin Girl Rin Sakurazara was sent as a kid by her grandfather to China's famed Shaolin school of martial arts to learn to curb and control her wealth of potential, promised power. What this power was, nobody knew, except that everyone knew she had to be protected from the villains lest she gets tempted to go to the Dark Side (yes, so very Star Wars). But she returns upon completion of her training to revive her grandfather's dojo, and does so in quite an impetuous headstrong manner, that she has a few lessons to learn herself, such as humility, camaraderie and teamwork, before she can impart those martial arts lessons.
However, despite all that talk about teaming, it still boiled down to a one-woman whackfest for the last act. If you're looking for some serious fighting, then the first two acts of the movie will bore as you only get teases spruced very much by special effects, some bits too, especially those involving Lacrosse, got too repetitive. Kitty Zhang, Chow's new muse from CJ7, ends up in this movie too to provide some lesbian undertones (ok, so I chose to read it that way, but think about it). and although she has a meatier role here as a naive do-gooder, the role still boiled down to a flower vase in cheongsam.
And if you're patient and were waiting to be rewarded with some proper combat for the finale, be prepared to be disappointed too. For all the talk about her prowess, you'll laugh at what Rin pulled off. Not that it's a comedy and you're supposed to chuckle, but you're laughing at its delivery instead, for all the wrong reasons. Never have I seen something that hokey, and anti-climatic as well. Not only that, the fights were unimaginative and, horrors, boring too, while the villains were all reduced to mindless goons ala Crazy88 style, with some tendencies to caress man boobs, and totally unmenacing, with lead villains having zero motivation other than to desire to fight. I nearly fell off my seat when it ventured close to The Promise territory with its take on the tykes.
Even supporting appearances by characters from Shaolin Soccer couldn't save the day, and became ridiculous caricatures of themselves. Perhaps what could rescue Shaolin Girl, was a cameo by Chow who probably might have upped the credibility of this flick, but alas, knowing that it would stink, he rightfully kept his distance. And so should you, unless you're a fan of either Kitty Zhang or Kou Shibasaki, then you can lap up all the close-up shots.