Movie Review: CJ7
By Matthew Huntley
April 6, 2008
Something must have gotten lost in the translation of this Chinese fantasy-comedy. Or maybe Stephen Chow has simply earned his first cinematic foul (it happens to the best of them). Chow's CJ7 is such a goofy, perplexing blend of slapstick, science fiction and wacky drama, if any filmmaker could have pulled it off, Chow would be one of them. But even he couldn't make it work, which makes me think the problem was the source material.
Chow once again directs himself in this high-spirited but ultimately unsatisfying (and mostly unfunny) tale of a poor father (Chow) and his troublemaking son (Jiao Xu), whose lives change when the father inadvertently brings home an alien from the junkyard.
The father, named Ti, and the son, named Dicky, are living hand-to-mouth in a half-standing brick building. Ti is doing his best to be a moralistic, hardworking role model after his wife died, devoting all his earnings from his construction job towards Dicky's education at a preppy private school. He even sews his son's uniform and shoes. The rich kids inevitably make fun of Dicky for always looking like he just crawled out of a dumpster, but Dicky pretty much laughs along with them. His only ambitions are to become a bum.
One night, Ti brings Dicky home a gift from the dump - a green, rubbery toy, which, it turns out, was left by a spaceship and is actually some kind of alien dog. It's a friendly, animated little creature with a green, flexible body and a round, furry head, atop which sticks out some kind of antenna. Dicky calls it CJ7 (the rich kids have a toy dog called CJ1) and he dreams it has special powers.
Based on what I just told you, you might think the story would go down a typical path and that CJ7 will: 1) rescue the father and son from poverty; 2) allow Dicky to take on the bullies at school; or 3) teach everyone a lesson about human nature. Some of these things happen, but not necessarily the way we expect. If one thing is for sure, CJ7 is hardly predictable. That's not necessarily an asset, though, as it seems like this movie could have gone anywhere. After a while, we stop caring.
The movie is mostly a series of short, comic situations that mimic children's cartoon shows (I say "children's" because the moments aren't as funny and witty as something like Bugs Bunny, whose cartoons were just as much for adults). We get larger-than-life characters, including a bully who throws Dicky across the schoolyard, along with a giant schoolgirl (with a high-pitched voice) who comes to Dicky's rescue; there's a sequence where Dicky commands CJ7 to make him a pair of high-tech glasses that allow him to cheat during a test; and we of course get the scatological humor.
Unfortunately, like many cartoon shows primarily targeted at kids, this movie isn't very enjoyable for adults. It's not painful or unbearable, but it's strangely flat, which is hard to believe given how sensational it is.
Part of the problem is the people are all painted as archetypal caricatures and not characters. I never really cared about what happened to them. To be fair, my lack of affection may be due to my not being familiar with Chinese humor. Perhaps the English subtitles didn't properly translate the subtleties and nuances for Western audiences. I also noticed the audio for Chow's voice didn't fully sync up and was dubbed by someone else, which proved distracting.
After the uproarious and surprisingly sophisticated Kung Fu Hustle (sophisticated at least in terms of its production), Stephen Chow was a director to look out for (he first hinted at his uncommon talent with Shaolin Soccer). And even with CJ7, I still believe Chow to be a director to look out for. Despite the movie never coming together, there was always an ambitious energy humming underneath every scene. Kids might like it for its silliness and for its effects, and they'll likely watch it for the same reasons they watch and enjoy Saturday morning cartoons, which is why adults will choose to ignore it.