Stephen Chow in many eyes is the new torchbearer for eastern cinema, taking over from Jackie Chan as an icon who has translated from Hong Kong to US and UK multiplexes. This new movie shows that the actor/writer/director has it in him to make his translation to box-office success over here as big as, if not bigger than, Chan himself.
Known mainly for his two prior movies, the phenomenal Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, Chow mixes traditional martial arts with Tom and Jerry-like cartoon animation that produces movies that are a mix of Dragonball (which he is currently working on) and Jim Carrey’s The Mask, only with a real twisted and insane style.
This mix of comedy and insane CGI is also prevalent in CJ7; however unlike his two previous blockbusters this is a much more personal tale, taking a dash of ET and adding a bit of Flubber to it. It might seem a strange combination, but it works.
Chow plays Ti, a poor labourer who lives in one room of an otherwise demolished building full off cockroaches and broken things. He lives with his son Dickey (who is played by the fantastic Xu Jiao), who he does everything for and tries to provide with all the things he needs in life, such as going off to a posh school. However, these costs mean that Dickey is a bit of a dirt magnet when he gets to said school, with his humble background counting against him. He cannot get a break in anything due to some teachers not wanting to go near him thanks to his broken trainers and the like. Not only this, he’s not in with the in-crowd, he has none of the best toys and gadgets, and worst of all is the affection for the biggest girl in school (think a bigger amiable oriental version of Heather from Eastenders). This school setting is typical and fun, and while greatly exaggerated contains so many things adults and kids alike can relate to from their school years that even when the action starts, you can see yourself at school doing exactly the same thing that Dickey ends up doing.
And when the action does start it certainly kicks into high gear. As with other Chow films, there is a great catalyst to start the ball rolling and for the CG action to kick in. This film, however, also manages to introduce what could potentially be a new kids’ icon. Without spoiling the movie too much, the film shifts gear with the appearance of an alien robot dog who Dickey calls CJ7. The alien, found on the tip where Dickey lives, starts out as a ball of green goo but evolves into a strange dog-like thingy which consequentially goes and turns Ti’s and Dickey’s lives upside down.
CJ7 is rendered with such character that at times it is hard to believe that his is done with just pixels alone. A mix of Flubber, a dandelion and Tinky Winky from the Tellytubbies, the alien dog is given a pile of personality, a fun emotive bundle of CG that is primed to be made into 101 pieces of merchandise, and has the ‘awww’ factor. But it’s not, as with a lot of American cartoon characters, squeaky clean and angelic. He poos, farts and generally does everything a normal animal would do, only he does it a lot funnier.
The film does rely on CG and action sequences, as is expected now from Chow’s work, and there are one or two homage to his prior films (check out the budda palm move) as well as a fair few familiar faces (Chow’s boss). However, unlike a lot of his prior films, the action is not the strongest point, with the family and characters playing a much more important role. From Chow’s down to earth and moralistic father to the caring and uncaring teachers, through to the boss at Chow’s construction site, this really is a film that is made by the strong characters and I will bet anyone not to get at least a lump in their throat for the film’s final act.
Overall this is a superb third outing for Chow and shows the development he has made as a filmmaker. He’s made a great leap in giving his characters more depth and emotive involvement with the story. Added to this we also have a new icon in CJ7 that is one of the strongest CG characters for a long time, and has the right balance of cute factor to personality. A great movie that will hopefully not be overlooked, and one that will surely get a rightly deserved cinematic release here in the UK.
CJ7 is available now on region 3 DVD, and can be ordered from CD-Wow.