I watched Shaolin Soccer last night, the Chinese cut (and briefly scanned the Miramax cut). I have to say, I liked it more than this week’s #5 at the box office, Kung Fu Hustle. Not only did the humor have a lighter touch, the characters at least maintained their (foolish) consistency.

I made a big deal about how Kung Fu Hustle is a parody of kung-fu movies. Like Dodgeball, Shaolin Soccer often approximates a sports-movie parody: a band of lovable losers triumphs over (in this case literally) Team Evil.

But since it also functions on a basic comic level, I’m torn about how to label Shoalin Soccer. Parody would seem to dismiss the real emotions that Chow and co. manage to evoke in the Mui subplot and in how much you pull for them to beat Team Evil. The effects, unlike in Hustle, have a whimsy that doesn’t seem expressly satirical.

The main difference between the American and original cuts appears to be some judicious trimming to streamline the narrative, the digital alteration of Chinese characters into English words on scoreboards, and Golden Leg’s tatoo. The hilarious one-liner about “American drugs” remained in the American cut — so unless the theatrical cut differs from the DVD, the reports of jingoist censorship are false.

In any case, if you are a Stephen Chow virgin, I recommend seeing Shaolin Soccer before Kung Fu Hustle. If you enjoyed Hustle, but haven’t seen Soccer — hop to it!