Thursday, August 20, 2015

Film Review: CJ7 (2008)

CJ7 (Review)
China/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...undeniably charming and fun."

Chow Ti (Stephen Chow) is a poor but hardworking construction worker saving money to continue sending his son, Dicky (Xu Jiao), to private school...

CJ7 follows Ti and Dicky. One day while window shopping, Dicky pleas for a CJ1 — a popular robotic dog engineered in collaboration across several countries. Unfortunately, Ti can't afford it. Instead, Ti brings Dicky a bizarre green ball he scavenged from a dump — unaware of its true identity. Eventually, Dicky unlocks the green ball unleashing a dog-like alien he calls "CJ7". Dicky and CJ7 get into their messy mishaps — including a lot of alien feces. Generally, the film follows a very familiar path. A spat with CJ7, it's resolved, a spat between father and son, and so on. It goes exactly where you're expecting, but it is still fairly effective thanks to the charm and performances. The ending is satisfying enough.

CJ7 is a very good film. When it comes to Stephen Chow, I usually expect the unexpected. Sure, he has a signature style of humor in all of his films. At the same time, there's always something that surprises me in his movies — whether it be a far-out gag or an unexpected plot point. In this case, CJ7 plays it very safe. Like I said, it follows a very generic path and hardly takes any chances in its narrative — it almost felt like I was watching a typical film straight out of Hollywood. On top of that, the film is very heavy-handed when it comes to its themes. I think most of Chow Ti's dialogue consists of "We may be poor, but we don't fight, we don't cheat..." and so on. It does make this a quip later in the film, but it generally feels a tad on the preachy side.

So, why is CJ7 a very good film? CJ7 is undeniably charming and fun. Although we don't have the same quirky Stephen Chow in this film, all of the characters are lively and distinct — including CJ7. We get plenty of charm and humor. Again, despite Chow's limited screen time, the humor still features his signature style — except this film lacks his black humor. The film has some ridiculous slapstick gags, bizarre yet hilarious characters, and some cutesy humor — for lack of a better term. There's even an entire gag dedicated to poop — what's not to like about that? I laughed, I chuckled, and I smiled. I had a great time and I stand by the "very good" despite the flaws in its core.

Stephen Chow does not take center stage in this film. Chow embodies a different character in this movie — not as quirky or energetic as his usual. But, he does play this constantly preaching and scolding character well. Young Xu Jiao steals the show. She is very lively, energetic, and quirky. Jiao is charismatic and charming, reminding me of a female Stephen Chow child. (maybe a bit of stretch considering all of the differentiating factors, but she does have that energy.) The film is shot very well. The special effects are also splendid. CJ7's animation and design are great — his little dance is wonderful and memorable. Stephen Chow does well as director and co-writer. He doesn't take as many chances with this film when it comes to the plot, but the humor is still zany and effective. It's dialed down a bit, but Chow still has great direction and vision.

Overall, CJ7 is a very fun film. The plot is very familiar and the film can be heavy-handed — you'll be told what the poor do and don't do a dozen times before the halfway mark. At the same time, the film glimmers with undeniable charm. The humor is balanced and versatile, offering quick quips, splendid gags, hilarious slapstick and some literal "potty" humor. I think it'll be a fun trip for families and long-time Stephen Chow fans.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

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