‘The Naked Man on the Sports Field’ (1974)

Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz is not really a soccer movie. This 1974 film from the East German director Konrad Wolf is about a sculptor (Kurt Böwe) in a small town, who gets a commission to create a monument for the local football stadium. Since the artist is fairly well known, the local authorities hope such a public artwork will help increase game attendance.

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Ted Lasso (2020) – loved the series, hated the ending

Ted Lasso (2020)

There are so many reviews of this Apple TV+ original series, there isn’t much for me to add. Well, except for that bit about hating the ending. But let me start by saying Ted Lasso is one of few things that I can be thankful for this year, outside of my family and friends. This ensemble piece gives us characters that we care about and watch develop over 10 episodes. It’s almost heartbreaking that we have to wait until next year for season 2.

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The Supporters are the best part of ’The Bromley Boys’ (2018)

The Bromley Boys (2018)

As an American, I sometimes have a terrible time understanding British humor. The Bromley Boys is one such case. Which in this year of 2020 is quite sad, because I really need cheering up.** Having enjoyed the youtube series Seaside Town by Warren Dudley, I expected his screenplay for The Bromley Boys to be equally fun.

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2 digits of excess in ‘Hello Mr Billionaire’ (2018)

Hello Mr Billionaire (2018) aka  西虹市首富 or Xi hong shi shou fu or  The Richest Man in Xihong City

With a box office of $367M, Hello Mr Billionaire would be the most successful soccer movie yet. If it were really a soccer movie. But regardless, this comedy demonstrates the power of Chinese films in the Chinese market. In 2018, TheNumbers listed it at #27 worldwide, but if listed in the 2019 international BoxOfficeMojo ranking, Hello Mr Billionaire would be #25, right after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

The plot – sort of

In the story, a goalkeeper with no money and no skill plays for a recreational soccer team but gets booted off. Then he finds out he is the only heir of a long-lost relative. To receive all of the 30 billion yuan inheritance, he must spend ¥1B in one month under a lot of restrictions, such as no charities, no destruction of stuff, and no one can know his purpose. The rules mean that he has to get very clever to spend so much money.

Of course, one of the first things GK Wong (Teng Shen) does is get himself back on the team by upgrading their facilities to FIFA quality. Then he arranges a FIFA quality team for them to play against at the end of the film.

Inbetween the beginning and ending football scenes, the movie pushes inordinate consumption to the max with fabulous meals in a fabulous hotel and fancy cars. With unlimited money, blunderers get opportunity. He gives his feckless sidekick business management responsibility. In a TV show similar to America’s Shark Tank, the GK funds every contestant’s screwball business opportunity. He romances the female accountant who is tracking his spending and writing the checks, by hiring her favorite singer for a concert and putting on a city-wide fireworks show.

GK Wong matures and develops some endearing traits along the way, and though he can be both comical and smug, 2 hours of Michael Jackson-esque materialism is tiresome. It’s also annoying to know that growing income disparity allows a select few people and kleptocrats around the world to actually live this way. Based on the story of Brewster’s Millions, it’s a situation that is increasingly less funny these days. But that didn’t stop it from being a huge hit in China.

On the other hand, the rom-com Crazy Rich Asians also came out in 2018 and made $267M worldwide. So ultra-rich characters make better escapism than I appreciate.

The soccer

I said this wasn’t really a soccer movie, and maybe that’s unfair when it has as much as 20 minutes of football in it. But football is only used to set the context of a man who is inept at everything, even the game about which he is so passionate.

Screenshot of fans cheering on the losing Daxiang team
Fans cheering on the losing Daxiang team

Originally the story was going to be about a baseball player. And supposedly the directors only kept the soccer footage in the film because they had spent so much effort on it. Maybe if they had kept it out, the film would have made even more money?

The ending soccer segment is 16 minutes long as the GK’s Daxiang team plays against Hengtai in a stadium full of Hengtai fans. After giving up 8 goals in the first half, the team tries to prevent Hengtai from achieving its target of scoring in double digits. As the Daxiang players form a Great Wall in front of the goal and sacrifice their bodies to defend their team’s honor, even the crowd is swayed. In the final minutes, all the fans and even the announcer chant “Daxiang, hold on”. (The Daxiang fan section is in yellow in the screenshot.) 

Behind the film

In researching the film, I was surprised to learn that production company Mahua Fun Age, possibly also known as Happy Twist, started off as a traveling theater troupe in China. Once they moved into the film business and became so successful, they pulled in private investors and are quite the complicated organization. Like most entities in China, it is almost impossible to find much information, but this posting on baidu has a lot of details about the film. In China it was known as The Richest Man in Xihong City.

One of the angles on the production is that they were sued for plagiarism. Another team of writers claimed they had shopped their story around, and Mahua Fun Age had not compensated them for using their ideas. The claimants lost their case in court, and I wonder if that was partially due to the inclusion of so much soccer in the film, which was not part of the claimant’s original idea.

Errata

The film’s success has made it a case study. I found a 2019 academic paper using the dialog to explain the goals of sub-title translation. For example, in Chinese, “抱负” refers to one who is ambitious, but it is pronounced the same as “暴富”, meaning one who becomes rich overnight. It makes a play on words that is lost to the non-Chinese speaking audience, but would get a lot of laughs in a Chinese theater.

The imperfection of translation is why I entitled this review “2 digits of excess”. Throughout the soccer game, the star opponent keeps holding up 2 fingers in a V sign and urging his team to go for “2 digits”. I was flummoxed until I realized the translator meant going for a double digit win, or at least 10 goals. Or maybe “2 digits!” is a common chant in China?

I also spent some time trying to locate the lavish French Louis XIV hotel in the movie. I assumed it was another example of China’s copycat architecture and a tourist spot. But after a fruitless search, I decided the exterior is a photoshopped building. If anyone knows differently, please send me a link!

5 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 5

Resources:

It’s better to pass than to try ‘Shooting for Socrates’ (2014)

Shooting for Socrates (2014)

The problem with Shooting for Socrates is that the football is really a backdrop for writing a feel good story about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. And while sport as metaphor is the motivation for many soccer movies, in this case, the film doesn’t find its chemistry and feels like oil and water. Categorized as both drama and comedy, the film feels like neither.

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Like baking soda, ‘Britt-Marie was Here’ (2019) solves problems

Britt-Marie was Here (2019)
Britt-Marie var här

A light-hearted pleasant comedy Britt-Marie was Here (Britt-Marie var här) is the tale of a 63 year old homemaker who has dedicated her life to being dutiful — cleaning, tidying, and completing to do lists that keep her house ultra organized. To her, baking soda solves all problems. The one problem it can’t solve is when she comes face-to-face with her stricken husband’s mistress at the side of his hospital bed. 

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‘Diamantino’ (2018): A satire or just randomly disturbing?

Diamantino (2018)

Great expectations make a heavy burden. After Diamantino’s smashing 2018 premiere at Cannes, I eagerly looked forward to it for over a year. It is now available to rent/purchase on iTunes and Amazon, but the typical football film and soccer movie fan may end up wanting to reverse the last 90 minutes of their lives. 

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‘Comme des Garçons’ (2018) – changing mentality

Comme des Garçons (2018), alternative title Let the Girls Play

Comme des Garçons is the first feature film from Writer-Director Julien Hallard, and it is quite an achievement. Also known as Let the Girls Play, this soccer movie is cute, smart, and well worth watching. While it takes a number of liberties with the true story of the renaissance of women’s football in France, it does so to create a feel-good film with carefully crafted and entertaining contours.

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‘Seaside Town’ (2018) makes a pleasant hour

As a low budget mockumentary, Seaside Town is a cute demo of what you can do with £12,000 and 155 enthusiastic participants from the local community. Director Warren Dudley and the producers wanted to put their hometown on the map. The result, Seaside Town, was originally a web series of six 12-minute episodes, but you can watch it on Amazon Prime as a 57-minute movie with the title My English American Adventure

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Where did ‘United We Fall’ (2014) go wrong?

United We Fall (2014)

As viewers, we sort of expect that a mockumentary will play out, as Bob Balaban has described, like “spending time with a bunch of really funny and totally harmless mental patients.” Christopher Guest set a very high bar for mockumentary, and I have no doubt that, when Writer-Director Gary Sinyor outlined his plan for United We Fall, he hoped his football comedy would reach similar heights of hilarity.

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