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CJ7     CJ7

(left) Xu Jiao and Stephen Chow, and (right) Xu Jiao holds up little CJ7.

Chinese: 長江七號  
Year: 2008  
Director: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi  
Producer: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Chui Po-Chu, Han San-Ping, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu
Writer: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Vincent Kok Tak-Chiu, Tsang Kan-Cheong, Sandy Shaw Lai-King, Fung Chih-Chiang
Cast: Stephen Chow Sing-Chi, Xu Jiao, Kitty Zhang Yuqi, Lam Chi-Chung, Fung Min-Hun
The Skinny: Hey, wasn't Stephen Chow supposed to be in this movie? Regardless of a lack of Chow, CJ7 channels Stephen Chow goodness and has the humor and heart to entertain the young...or those with young minds. You can decide which camp you belong to.
by Kozo:

Stephen Chow is back. Well, partly. The Chow that most Hong Kong audiences know and love is the lovable wiseacre from such classic films as From Beijing with Love and Fight Back to School, and that Chow hasn't made a film in a long time. Over the last ten years, Chow has been a filmmaker rather than a comedian - not a bad trade-off considering that Chow has always been the star of his films, plus his trademark brand of visual comedy was always present. CJ7 gives audiences the latter, delivering hilarious anime-inspired comedy and a decent helping of sarcastic irreverence that should be familiar to the Chow faithful. What it doesn't deliver is Stephen Chow as the star, and fair or not, that registers as a disappointment. Luckily, child actor Xu Jiao is quite funny, and CJ7 still has the ability to entertain and even touch audiences. However, Western fans whose Stephen Chow experience begins with Shaolin Soccer and ends with Kung Fu Hustle may not care for CJ7 at all. It's easy to understand why.

Chow plays a grey-haired laborer named Ti, who's so poor that he scavenges for all his material belongings at the local garbage dump. Ti is just a supporting character, however; the main character of CJ7 is Ti's son Dicky, played by the funny and winning young actress Xu Jiao. Dicky goes to an upscale school because Ti wants his son to have a good education, and to go on to bigger and better things. All of the earnings from Ti's construction site job go into Dicky's tuition, while their daily meals are sparse and their clothes frequently dirty or even tattered. Nevertheless, their relationship is loving and even charming, in that "it's liberating to be poor" sort of way, and Ti is constantly teaching Dicky all the proper values. Don't lie, don't cheat, don't steal, etc. - Dicky is taught these Boy Scout values every day by the deadpan serious Ti, who impresses upon Dicky that even a poor person can be worth something. It's touchy-feely, goody-goody advice that's actually quite fitting for Stephen Chow. Despite Chow's sarcastic brand of humor, he frequently pushes righteousness, loyalty, and friendship in his films. Ti is a Stephen Chow character through and through.

What Ti isn't, however, is funny. He sometimes seems amusing, but that's mainly because of Stephen Chow's droll delivery, and because it's easy for audiences to see humor in nearly everything Stephen Chow does. Most of the time, however, his character is serious and earnest, and Chow is barely onscreen enough to flesh his character out into more than a stern but sincere patriarch. Credit Chow the actor for making Ti seem like more than a character type. Chow's gift as a comedian has always been his ability to project felt emotion between all the screwy mo lei tau, and even where he's not acting nonsensical, Chow's acting chops are enough to carry a character. We saw it in A Chinese Odyssey, we saw it in King of Comedy - heck, we even saw flashes of it in those wacky Wong Jing-directed Royal Tramp movies. Stephen Chow is more than just nonsense, and CJ7 is further proof that the man has depth. Too bad there's so little of him to see - which is reason enough to mark CJ7 as a full-on disappointment for those who are looking for Chow to do more than appear once every three years on the big screen. Chow doesn't really owe his fans more of his screwy antics, but truthfully, it's what a lot of people want to see. Well, those people won't get that version of Stephen Chow here.

What will they get? Perhaps the real Stephen Chow - that is, the guy who grew up poor, worked hard, and became the multi-hyphenate Hong Kong Cinema God that he is today. Stephen Chow isn't onscreen much in CJ7, but he's definitely present in the rest of the film. It's easy to see that what he put into CJ7 is what's important to him, from the wacky anime-inspired comedy, to the scatological humor, to the - yes, that's right - touching family drama. Chow is an emotional guy. Just check out the maudlin conceits that figure into the climaxes of both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, and you can tell that Stephen Chow is basically a sap. That's what makes him a lovable wiseacre and not just an annoying one, and it's why CJ7 can still reach audiences despite being only half a Stephen Chow film and only partly successful overall. Chow introduces a new actress in Xu Jiao to deliver the film's humor and heartbreak - and she does it capably. Her performance is winning enough that one may not necessarily mark time between Chow's onscreen appearances. Xu Jiao carries CJ7 rather well, and further demonstrates Chow's ability to find and develop new talent, which is something Chow has been trying to do since he began directing his own features.

Xu Jiao has help, of course, from CJ7, the visual effects-rendered alien that is the most marketable selling point of the film. When young Dicky begs Ti to give him a CJ1, a robotic toy dog not unlike an Aibo, Ti goes to the dump and finds some green goo leftover from a departing spacecraft. The goo becomes CJ7, who's part dog, part Flubber, and all adorable. Dicky immediately looks for CJ7 to help him get by at school, i.e. cheat on his exams, beat up the bullies, and generally make him the school's big cheese. Of course, engaging in such shenanigans runs counter to the family values that Ti pushes, thereby forming the major conflict in CJ7. This is your age-old story of a father and son fighting over the son's development, and whether or not he's approaching his schoolwork and life with the proper earnest attitude. CJ7? He's a plot device, and the film never really does much to make him understood to the audience. A lot of time is spent learning what CJ7 can and cannot do, but do we actually learn who or what CJ7 is? Not really. In the end, this is the story of a boy and his father and not a boy and his dog. CJ7 poses many questions, but it answers precious few, seeking instead to inundate the audience with gags, gags, more gags, and finally some drama and the big, overriding lesson of the whole thing - which overall, isn't all that novel or interesting. The final lesson of CJ7 isn't as trite as "Clean your room!", but it may as well be.

Which is why CJ7 is ultimately a kid's film, despite having some adult-slanted humor and cartoonish violence that would do Looney Tunes (or perhaps Dragonball) proud. It's not very well developed, and glosses over many of the questions it raises, choosing instead to go for sentimentality and obvious platitudes. The heart of the film is pretty standard after school special stuff, and the visual effects, while impressive, are ultimately not groundbreaking like the effects in Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle. In those two films, Stephen Chow used CGI to do new things, bringing anime or classic Hong Kong Cinema to life in ways that nobody had before. CJ7 repeats many of Chow's old tricks (frequently in obvious, and rather needless parody of his own work) plus uses CGI to do what many other films have done: create something cute and huggable. That said, CJ7 really is quite cute, and earns his marketability with flying colors. Stephen Chow doesn't really surprise here, but he does do what he chooses to do with entertaining finesse. This film will amuse and delight kids, and likely tickle adults who don't mind soggy lessons about appreciating your parents' stern lessons. And anyway, despite not delivering anything truly new or surprising in CJ7, Chow does manage to engage the audience's emotions. The man knows what he's doing.

But is what he doing what his audience really wants? That's hard to say. Western audiences may not be happy with CJ7 because it's basically a dirtier, slightly more violent cross between Pokemon and Doraemon with some irreverence and sarcasm thrown in. There's kung fu, but it's not the type that people really want to see, as it's delivered only briefly and usually by overweight kids. Cute critters aren't everybody's cup of tea either, though the poop jokes will probably satisfy a good many. CJ7 has little "cool factor", and will likely not have the crossover success that Chow's last two films did. The irreverence and live-action anime feel could prove entertaining to many though, as it satisfies that weird sense of otherness some fans of Asian Cinema like. Hong Kong audiences will probably dig the film, because it's big, expensive, and heavily marketed - plus Stephen Chow is so popular that audiences are guaranteed to show up. Too bad he's so hastily looking to move behind the camera that he has seemingly forgotten why his fans exist in the first place: to see him on the screen. It was clear in Kung Fu Hustle that Chow wanted to move away from onscreen performing, but CJ7 is perhaps too much, too soon. Chow has plenty of time to be just a filmmaker, so hopefully he still has plans to come back once in a while to, you know, actually perform. It would be money in the bank. Lots of it. (Kozo 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
ERA Home Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Various Extras
*Also Available on Blu-ray Disc

images courtesy of Sony Pictures Asia Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen