CJ7 (Stephen Chow, 2008)
Cantonese Title: Cheung Gong 7 hou
There's an almost unanimous assessment among most Western viewers and critics that Stephen Chow's CJ7 is substantially inferior to his last two successes, Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004). I would tend to agree. CJ7, predominantly a reworking of the formula popularized by Steven Spielberg's tearjerking classic E. T. (1982), and regurgitated in the eighties through the early nineties with several immemorable children's fare (does anybody remember Mac and Me?), is about a boy named Dicky (Xu Jiao, who is actually a girl) who discovers the titular dog-like alien creature that eventually teaches him a thing or two about life and growing up.
Ti (Chow), Dicky's father works as a casual employee in one of the city's many construction sites. Despite his serious financial struggle, he maintains that Dicky be provided quality good education by sending him to an expensive exclusive school. Naturally, Dicky becomes the center of attention of his teachers and bullying classmates, especially with his dirty uniform and sewn-and-resewn shoes. He imagines that his newfound pet, named CJ7 following the popular robot toy dogs, would help him get better grades but as it turns out, the alien pet is actually useless in that department, causing Dicky's grades to plummet.
What essentially separates CJ7 from the numerous similar films that were made before it is the fact that it is written, directed, and produced by Chow, whose unique brand of comedy has survived through the digital age by utilizing digital effects for brashly outrageous comic effect. Chow uses the same technique here. By mixing digital effects (including the completely digitized alien pet which looks like a cross between a Pokemon and a gummy bear) and his traditional comedy, Chow was able to rise a little bit higher than his meager material, creating a film that may not be as hilarious as his last two efforts but is at least very watchable.
Chow has always made frankly sentimental films, although usually blanketed by his boisterous comic sensibilities. For example, that middling love angle between Chow's character and the psoriasis-infected lady in Shaolin Soccer was conveniently draped by the out-of-this-world soccer battles; or the melodramatic linkage between the good-for-nothing bum and the deaf ice cream vendor was made a mere sideplot in Kung Fu Hustle. Despite the consistent proliferation of what is essentially kitschy and corny in his films, Chow seems always able to balance slapstick and sentiment, creating films that are oddly effective as creative outputs and products for mass consumption. CJ7 is designed similarly, although this time, Chow's sentimentality overtook his clever humor, for better or for worse. The imbalance is at first off-putting, but after a while, it gets reasonable and rather enjoyable.
Thus, there is no surprise that Chow made this film. It is only a matter of time. It is inaccurate to say that CJ7 is a cop-out for the always-reliable Chow since there is still a bit of irreverence and wickedness underneath all of Chow's syrupy storytelling (seriously, no other filmmaker, apart from Dolphy, a revered Filipino comedian, who can portray the poor this comically (where cockroach-killing is family bonding time) and still come out as respectful and more importantly, funny). As I've said, CJ7 is definitely not as good as Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle or many of Chow's less known movies from the nineties, but it is most certainly miles better than the lifeless, tepid, and uninspired children's fare Hollywood has been producing through the years.