April 26, 2004 12:00 PM

AGE: 41

HOMETOWN: Mongkok, Hong Kong

LATEST GIG: Shaolin Soccer

•He kicks, he scores

Chow wrote, directed and stars in Shaolin Soccer, a kung fu comedy that showcases his goofy brand of mo lei tau (literally, “nonsense”) humor—think Jim Carrey meets Jackie Chan. The film, which opens in the U.S. this week, has become the highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time in Hong Kong.

•Bend it like Chow

“I don’t really play soccer,” says Chow, whose antics in 51 movies have won him a devoted following. Says director Quentin Tarantino, a longtime fan: “Stephen is absolutely one of the funniest comedians in cinema.”

•Youth league

One of four kids born to Ling Bo-Yee, 62, a homemaker (she and Chow’s father, Chiau Yan-Ching, 76, an interior designer, divorced when he was 3), Chow grew up poor in a 300-sq.-ft. apartment. As a youngster, “he was extremely shy,” says mom Ling. “But he would watch people and imitate the things they did.” Hoping to pursue showbiz like his idol Bruce Lee, Chow landed a spot in Hong Kong’s famed TVB acting school. A role in a children’s show followed, allowing Chow to develop his brazen comedy style. “You are rude to the kids,” he recalls a supervisor telling him. “But the reaction from the audience is good. Please do more of it.”

•GOAAAAAL!

Chow’s dream project? A Shaolin sequel with an all-female cast. “It’s got to be girls,” says the star, who lives in Hong Kong with his mom and sister. “Lots of girls, all playing soccer. Just thinking about it makes me happy.”

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