Friday, November 30, 2012

Transcendence in Visual Effects: Expressing the Inexpressible in Shaolin Soccer (2001)

As we have previously discussed, visual effects can be used for purposes beyond mere reality, but can be used to express an emotion, or the inner life of a protagonist, or in this case the experience of attaining spiritual enlightenment.

When seen in this light, most visual effects are revealed to be the empty shells that they are: communicating nothing of value, the mere posturing of one giant robot to another, of another wall that explodes, a car that crashes or the actions of a zombie going through the motions of being a human but empty of genuine human thought or emotion. It is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

But when the purpose and talent of the filmmaker uses visual effects for a higher, more noble purpose, then visual effects can add tremendous value to a film.

In this example, from Steven Chow's Shaolin Soccer (2001), visual effects is used to show the triumphant return to enlightenment of the former and debased monks, who through the discipline of soccer and the humiliation of being defeated through the deceit and immorality of the practice team, achieve enlightenment on the soccer field. Thus the fire that appears behind them when they open their eyes, is the fire that is experienced by the soul when it attains this spiritual state. And the practice of playing soccer is a metaphor for how the secret techniques of the monks of Shaolin can lead to a better and more actualized life in the so-called real world.

The sequence is here:

It is not clear which school of Buddhism is being presented, it may be an esoteric form of practice. But I have no doubt that the practice exists or should exist as the seriousness of purpose of the filmmakers comes through in every frame of their film.

A better use of the technique of a modified "bullet time" does not exist and many doubt it could exist, so perfect is its use here.

The Wikipedia page:

The IMDB page:


  1. Oh Michael! You are such a genius for pointing out this great use of visual effects in this important movie! MW

  2. Any guess of music in the scene of monks chanting, when brothers coming back,,, searched on youtube but yet not found...