"Fun for the whole family, if the family’s surname is Manson."
Hong Kong-born filmmaker Stephen Chow has an imagination that is so hyperactive, he single-handedly eliminates the need to ever take psychedelic drugs. His ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ dispensed with silly things like plot and narrative structure in favor of moments of surrealism and whimsy that were breathtaking in their sheer oddity. While the previous film was a classic for its over-the-top humor, Chow’s child-like sense of wonder is oddly no guarantee that he can make a suitable film for kids.“CJ7” proves that Chow is still a formidable filmmaker. Even though he’s working with a familiar setup (a space alien changes the life of a struggling family), Chow finds plenty of fresh and intriguing ways to deliver his tale. Chow can make audiences laugh, cry, scream or stare in amazement.
It’s too bad he has trouble figuring out which of his skills to use.
“CJ7” feels disjointed. It features half-dozen credited screenwriters including Chow and plays as if the scribes took individual turns with little regard for the passages that preceded them.
The lapses of logic and flow were actually assets in “Kung Fu Hustle” because the film never slipped into predictability. For this tale, it would be nice to know what the alien’s gifts are and why he behaves the way he does.
The nominal plotline involves a schoolboy named Dickie (Xu Jiao) who has to suffer both the taunts and abuse of bullies and his father’s inability to buy such essentials as food and clothing.
It’s not that Dad (Chow) is a slacker. His construction job simply pays too little cover the lingering costs of the medical treatment Dickie’s late mother received. As a result, Dad is forced to dig through garbage dumps in order to get what he and his son need to survive.
The duo’s fortunes change when Dad discovers a strange ball that turns out to be a tiny but friendly extraterrestrial who acts and moves like a dog. Dickie names it CJ7 after a popular mechanical toy pooch that’s beyond the lad’s means.
CJ7 looks like the computer animated critter that he is, but he’s so cute and lovable that it hardly matters. In fact, he’s often more likable than the people in the film.
Both the bullies and even Dickie poke and prod the poor creature with objects like drills and saws. With images like these, the film makes one wonder if “CJ7” is properly suited for kids. I’d hate to think of what impressionable tots might do to pets after seeing this.
The sadism mars what would otherwise be a charming film about keeping up one’s dignity despite material depravations. Screen rookie Xu demonstrates a surprising range and carries the film on his little shoulders. The scenes where he and the alien bond are so endearing, it almost makes up for when the film derails.Chow’s exaggerated approach still shines through occasionally. A sequence where a bully gets some justified retribution juggles eye-popping visuals with solid physical comedy. Nonetheless, “CJ7” might have made more suitable children’s entertainment if Chow had made it more sweet than sour.