CJ7 (2008)

CJ7 (2008)I’d like to tell you that “CJ7” is Stephen Chow’s answer to “E.T.” but as we all have come to know, Chow would never be about providing ordinary kids entertainment that we’ve seen before. “CJ7” may have the same formula when you get down to it, but Chow gives his own spin on it and it works. It’s a healthy dose of menace, adult edge, and over the top fantasy that has become a dead art in family films and director Chow takes every chance to flex those elements with his own take on the boy meets alien tale. On the flipside, Chow also tries to tell a genuinely emotional tale about a poor down on their luck and father and son struggling to get by living in a junk yard and eating day old food, while character Dickey’s dad always tries to teach him about life and how there are simply no short cuts. Especially when you’re poor.

Though “CJ7” can be extremely over the top, it strives to teach the audience about working hard for what you want and coming out ahead in spite of your struggles. There’s a very long sequence where CJ7 provides young boy Dickey with quick fixes to passing his tests and acing his exams in class and we learn it’s all just one big fix of wishful thinking; he soon learns that life just isn’t that kind, even in the confines of fiction. I really cared for these characters and their chemistry on screen brings a realistic example of living four steps ahead of children with the ability to get whatever they want, and how painful it can be to be poor. In spite of Xu Jiao’s sympathetic performance, there’s simply no saving character Dicky who is often conveyed as being lazy, ungrateful, and absolutely spoiled from the minute we’re introduced to him. Chow and co. try to explain it as a poor child frustrated with his situation but there’s simply no accounting for some of the acts he performs on his father and the alien.

When he comes across CJ7, the battle that ensues is quite mean spirited as he demands the monster to perform tricks to help him cheat, and when it doesn’t comply, he proceeds to shove its head in to a toilet trying to drown it, and suffocating it in a bag out of anger. Though Chow does try to pass it off as slapstick, it comes off very cruel, especially for kids who will fall for CJ7. Once Dicky begins flushing CJ7, he becomes an instant villain and it’s a tough task for Chow to bring him back as a protagonist, which is one of the main downfalls of “CJ7.” As hard as Chow and co. try, Dicky never quite reverts back to a hero again, and even after learning to appreciate the alien and fighting for its safety, he’s still quite mean and spoiled revealing very little redeeming traits by the time the credits roll. Even with tongue planted firmly in cheek, the torture CJ7 endures is disturbing, and it may not fare well with all audiences looking for a gentle story, that’s for sure.

CJ7 on the other hand is a cute, if occasionally creepy, little alien monster who is very innocent and adorable but not without the typical erratic behavior prevalent in Chow’s characters. He is a bonafide cartoon character fleshed in rather great CGI presenting a combination of Gizmo, Pikachu, and ET, with a truly interesting personality that will win over audiences. Chow is particularly great, and noticeably low key, as father Ti, a working class noble man who inspires his son to work hard and get his education. When CJ7 comes along and interrupt their squalor, things change for better and for worse. Chow never really loses sight of his story and keeps this over the top fantasy a constant contender for a family fare double bill. I’m surprised it hasn’t been as well received as it could be. In spite of the hole the writers dig themselves in accidentally turning the main hero in to a really unlikable presence, “CJ7” is a great twist on the boy meets alien tale with great CGI, great performances, over the top slapstick humor, and a genuinely great emphasis on poverty and the nobility towards it Chow conveys.