Directed by Stephen Chow. Starring Stephen Chow, Xu Jiao, Kitty Zhang, Lam Tze-Chung. (2008, PG, 88 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 11, 2008
Chow's homegrown brand of Chinese movies differs from the martial arts and action films of figures like Jet Li and Jackie Chan, for whom Americans have acquired a growing taste. Chow's films of late (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer) are energetically nonsensical comedies, in which he stars as well as directs. With CJ7, however, Chow applies this manic style to a kids movie, and the result would be better left off his résumé. It's a cutesy, sentimentally cloying, platitudinous story we've seen dozens of times before. Dicky (Xu – a young girl cast as a boy) lives in a squat with his impoverished father, Ti (Chow), who uses all the money from his backbreaking construction job to send young Dicky to an elite private school, where the boy is bullied by the other kids for his shabby wardrobe and unwashed appearance. Dicky's status changes when he comes into possession of a fluorescent blob he finds at the scrap heap, which transforms into an adorable space creature with unearthly powers. It looks and sounds something like a Teletubby dog with a waggling antenna-tail atop its head, and Dickie promptly names it CJ7 (obviously superior to the mechanical CJ1 toys that are all the rage among his schoolmates). CJ7 soon reveals its unearthly powers, which mostly involve defending Dicky by pummeling the other kids and mysteriously defying the laws of earth physics by righting everything that goes wrong or becomes hurt. The widescreen CGI work shows off some of Chow's crazier stunts, as with the cockroach stomping sequence that looks like the characters are involved in a live Wii competition. The storyline is milked for maximum sentiment, and the resolution obscures the fact that Ti's and Dicky's lives have sustained no real improvements. They are still poor but happy and honest. Chow's loyal fans are sure to be disappointed by CJ7, and the film faces one other significant problem in traveling to these shores: Any kid who is the right age to appreciate this pap is going to be too young to read subtitles.