Stephen Chow's E.T.-inspired CJ7 opens this weekend, and although it's been critically kicked around like the lowest dog on Earth, we loved the cute little thing. It's not your typical science fiction movie, and it's not even a typical Stephen Chow movie, who is best known for comedies like Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer. But this tale of a boy and his cute alien friend was the most fun we've had going to the theater in a long time. Spoilers and clips below.
Watching the trailer, you'd have no idea what to expect from the film. When you see a trailer for an American movie these days, you've seen the funniest lines, the biggest explosions, and you know all the beats in the story to look for. With this one, we went in knowing there's something about a toy and an alien, and a little kid who screams a lot... but only in the trailer.
While the movie is a "Stephen Chow Film" about CJ7, which turns out to be a weird sort of alien/toy hybrid, the real star of the film is Xu Jiao. She plays the part of Dicky Chow, a boy, who receives CJ7 as a piece of flotsam his dad picked up in the junkyard. She has more screen time than either Chow or the completely CGI-ized CJ7, and she's both charming and funny.
In fact, for the first time in one of Chow's films, children are the real stars of the movie, and he gets some stellar performances out of them. Check out the round-headed boy (who is also played by a girl) who wants to be an entrepreneur in the clip above. He ends up becoming Dicky's nemesis (more on that in the clip below), and later you realize you could watch an entire movie about the daily lives of these schoolkids.
Anyhow, the basic plot is that Dicky and his father are extremely poor, and Dicky's father works long hours in a construction job just to be able to send his son to an expensive private school. As a result, they live near squalor in a house that is falling apart, and he can't afford to buy Dicky any of the cool toys that the other kids have at school, like CJ1, a sort of Sony Aibo looking robodog. Dicky feels left out, and his dad goes searching through the junkyard to find a toy for Dicky.
That's where things go wonky. He finds a hunk of bright green phlegm-colored plastic that looks like either a strange basketball, or something that fell off a fisherman's boat. It's a poor toy compared to a robot, that's for sure. However, when Dicky's dad locks him in a closer for misbehaving (something Dicky does frequently), the ball comes to life and puts Dicky in some sort of a holographic projection that shows him a set of instructions in rebus-form. Later, the ball comes to life, and eventually becomes a little half fluffy / half plastic toy dog.
Dicky thinks the dog has magic powers and can help him handle the bullies at school. In fact, some of the best scenes in the movie are the fantasy sequences (like the scene below where CJ7 faces "the most violent dog in the world") that unfold in Dicky's mind. In reality, CJ7 is more like a little Pomeranian toy dog than a robotic alien savior, but he does come imbued with E.T.-esque healing powers that work on both people and machines.
Eventually Dicky has to learn to live without CJ7, although this is a movie aimed at kids and families, so don't expect it to end on a sad note. Much like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, this film is a bit like Looney Tunes on acid, with extreme over the top action sequences and CGI effects. The scenes with CJ7 and Dicky at school are the best in the film, and highlight how creative this Chow can be. At its worst moments, the movie drags a bit with Chow himself struggling at his job, or the heavy-handed father/son relationship which is tenuous at best.
CJ7 might look cutesy Hello Kitty-ish, but we totally want one on our shelves. The film opens this weekend, and is definitely worth checking out, especially if you like slapstick comedy and a little cuteness in your aliens.