Stephen Chow, as a director anyways, has a pension for genre-jumping though his cinema is based almost solely on the idea of frenzy. Admittedly, my knowledge of this peculiar Chinese director-writer-actor is relegated to his American-released, pictures but I'm calling it as I see it. Chow's most relevant hit, 2004's Kung Fu Hustle, gained notoriety based completely on the fact that it was, pound-for-pound, the craziest action film to come along in years. In a more minor way, the same can be said for his Shaolin Soccer: Even the most careless of Disney sports outings hasn't resulted in something as playful as Chow's concoction. The man's prowess comes from being half-animated and mostly insane.
For these reasons and a few more, CJ7, Chow's excursion into child-friendly filmmaking, comes off as beleaguered, if not irrefutably adorable. Ti (Chow) works as a construction worker in Hong Kong and spends his nights rooting around in garbage piles for things he can fix for his son Dicky (played by actress Xu Jiao). It's under one particular heap of broken televisions and discarded clothing that Ti finds a UFO that quickly zooms away after expelling a little green ball with a small circle on the top.
After a few tosses and some expected fidgeting with the small circle, the ball morphs into a little creature in front of Dicky's eyes, a furry alien-puppy that Dicky imagines will be able to beat up the meanest dog in all of China, create technological advances in test cheating, and form bionic footwear that would allow Dicky to one-up his schoolmates. As it ends up, CJ7 can only repair objects: a busted electrical fan, a rotted apple, a few soured relationships.
Chow has never been afraid of convention, a fact apparent by his beguiling embracing of genre schematics. Both Soccer and Hustle are structured like a dozen other action flicks or sports-story retreads, but instead of being laid with red brick and cement, Chow's features are built with silly putty, dynamite, and peanut butter. This delirious energy still courses through his latest film but the degree has changed. Instead of expectations being upstaged, they are merely tickled and given a good mussing.
As with his two previous efforts, the shining gem in CJ7 is the graphic design and animation. Certainly no Mogwai, CJ7 nevertheless is a creative little critter that keeps Chow's stills jumpy and alive; Chow's film could be accused rightly of many things but it most definitely isn't boring. The director wisely paces his film to correspond with CJ7's antics, following studs of textbook structure with moments of wild abandon. The love story between Ti and Dicky's teacher (Kitty Zhang) is thankfully defused at every instance, most notably by Chow's final affirmation of being "too handsome."
Not crazy enough by a measure, CJ7 beats out family-film duds like The Spiderwick Chronicles in sheer buoyancy alone. To the director's credit, the film's weepy moments, and there are some doozies, are put on in a rush in the interest of returning to more lighthearted scenes. As an exercise in family entertainment, Chow has the good nature to at least have fun, both aesthetically and in his writing, rather than tie himself to weighty dramatics. Still, the film is in dire need of some good old-fashioned calamities.
Aka Cheung Gong 7 hou.
Go fetch my iPhone.