Before I begin my review, I have a confession to make – I hadn’t seen a Stephen Chow film prior to viewing CJ7, and actually, I’d never even been mildly interested in seeing the likes of Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle. With that in mind, I must say that I found CJ7 cute, refreshing, a little bit strange, surprisingly emotional and if nothing else, proof that it was a mistake to ignore Stephen Chow.
CJ7 follows the struggles of a poor man named Ti (Chow) to provide for his young son Dicky (Jiao Xu), whose impoverished state is ridiculed by his classmates and teachers alike. Ti is driven only by the desire to see that his son does not end up like him – poor and uneducated -- and he is equal parts stern and loving in grounding Dicky with strong morals and an even stronger work-ethic. Despite the relationship between father and son being filled with endearment and friendship, Dicky can’t resist the childhood pangs for things like a cool pair of shoes or the newest toy, and he seems to slowly drift away from Ti’s guidance. So, like the good father he is, Ti begins to search frantically for something that can lift Dicky’s spirits. When he stumbles upon a mysterious orb in a junkyard, it seems like the perfect gift. But when Docky realizes that the unique ball is actually a furry alien-dog, he immediately envisions the drastic changes that the magical “CJ7” could orchestrate.
CJ7 is no doubt a family film, but it succeeds because it’s a mixed-bag more than that – it’s got a little bit of fairy-tale, some slapstick humor, believable CGI, and certainly a subtle dash of reality at its core. This seems to be the place where one might compare CJ7 to Chow’s other films, but perhaps it’s a blessing that I can’t do that, because there’s really no need for it. Chow has made a film that clearly stands on its own, free from the shackles of his other projects. Sure, CJ7 is essentially kung-fu free, bit instead it has real values – that of family, the bond between father and son, and even the difficulties and joys of parenthood.
With CJ7, Stephen Chow shows true depth as an actor, writer, and director. His style, although it doesn’t have much of an overall influence on the film, is refreshingly evident. His script is meaningful, nuanced, and pitch perfect in tone, all the while avoiding the mistake of becoming manipulative. And his acting, while not exactly overpowering, is capable and thought-provoking in that he puts the audience in his shoes and asks, “What would you do with this child?” As I said before, if nothing else, CJ7 left me impressed with the talents of Stephen Chow.
In the end, CJ7 isn’t a film that’s going to blow you away or stay on your mind for days, but it succeeds in what it sets out to do, and that is present the story of a cute, cuddly alien who brings joy and happiness to a trouble young boy and his hapless father. It’s a genuine film that’ll nestle up to the hearts of each and every member of the family who watches it. And truly, what more do we need from family films?
The disappointing news for fans of Blu-ray and its HD special features is that CJ7’s Blu-ray release has exactly the same supplemental features as the DVD issue, which means all of the extra material is in Standard Definition. The film itself offers a fantastic HD transfer, but the drop off in HD content is certainly something to think about when considering spending the extra $15 for the Blu-ray version.
HD or not, most of CJ7’s special features are actually pretty decent, and more than worth your time. First up is the audio commentary which, although subtitled, is quite enjoyable to follow along with. Stephen Chow essentially hosts a discussion about his film, with actors Chi Gung Lam, Shing-Cheung Lee and a few of the writers providing their own insights, jokes, and on-set tidbits. Just a warning: at first it seems tedious to decipher who exactly was speaking while at the same time reading the conversation, but I got used to if after a while, and I’m happy I decided to stick it out.
Next up is a 14-minute segment called “The Story of CJ7”, which features Chow inviting us inside some of the method to his madness on set. Honestly, Chow seems like a really cool and funny guy, so it makes sense that I enjoyed watching him explain where he got the idea for the movie, and how he went about filming it – you probably will too.
The third feature is a CJ7 TV Special, and again, it is fun to watch because the whole production, from Chow all the way down to the computer animators, seems like they had a blast making the movie. And there’s just something extremely inspiring about watching people who clearly enjoy their work, especially when you genuinely enjoyed their final product. The special delves into aspects such as the creation of CJ7 and the general process of bringing him to the big-screen.
The final worthwhile feature is “Anatomy of a Scene”, which focuses on one of the bathroom scenes where CJ7 and Dicky converse in a stall. It’s an interesting look into the analytical approach of a director to any given sequence, but unfortunately it’s fairly short and only a mere glance at the technical aspects of shot composition.
There are also two other very short features, an interactive game for the kids, and the theatrical trailer. I was already satisfied with CJ7’s special features, so I wasn’t exactly disappointed by the last few, but I mention them in case you have kids and want to let them experience CJ7 for a little bit longer.
Overall, CJ7 is a fun little film with a gentle tone and a surprisingly big heart. It’s not the best children’s film ever made, but it is a rather refreshing entry into the genre, and certainly a film the whole family will enjoy.