Directed by: Stephen Chow
Written by: Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Vincent Kok, Sandy Shaw, Kan-Cheung Tsang
Starring: Stephen Chow, Kitty Zhang Yuqi, Jiao Xu, Chi Chung Lam, Min Hun Fung
My childhood friend, Dave aka Spock, decided to visit on his way to Calgary. As is our custom, we check out the Chinese malls in Toronto. While browsing the bootleg DVDs, I notice a new Stephen Chow movie called CJ7. (Sean tells me later that he had posted a trailer for this movie on Film Junk, but I must have overlooked it.) On the same DVD, they’ve also put two other movies that I’ve never heard of: Playboy Cops and An Empress and the Warriors.
Now I don’t condone buying bootlegs or downloading movies illegally, but sometimes curiosity gets the better of me. You know those ads on some DVDs where they lay a guilt trip saying that downloading movies is like stealing. Well, if I could steal a car and get away with it, I would. Besides, the DVD is selling for $2.00 CDN.
Of course, sometimes the movies are camcordered from within a theatre, and sometimes there aren’t any English subtitles, and the sound quality will definitely be lo-fi. In this case, the video quality is acceptable, but there are no English subtitles.
Before I tell you about CJ7, I should mention that the only spoken Chinese I understand is what I refer to as domestic Chinese. That is, Chinese that would be spoken around the home. So if a character says in Chinese, “Clean up your room,” “Be quiet,” “Make your bed,” or “You’re a bad boy,” then I would understand. You can pretty much imagine that I’d be lost watching most Chinese movies without English subtitles.
Of the two main dialects, Cantonese and Mandarin, the one I’m familiar with is Cantonese. So if the dialect spoken is Mandarin, I can’t understand a thing.
Since written Chinese is the same in both Cantonese and Mandarin, these bootlegs are normally subtitled in Chinese so that any Chinese person would be able to understand. Unfortunately, the only Chinese subtitles I would understand are numbers and my name.
The reason I mention all this is that I watched a Mandarin version of CJ7 with only Chinese subtitles. You might think it’s pretty useless reviewing a movie without knowing what the characters are saying. But I’ll tell you my impressions based on what I saw, and hopefully, it might be enough for you to seek out this movie for yourself. At least I won’t be able to spoil the movie too much for you.
CJ7 is an E.T.-like movie. (By a weird coincidence, I’m listening to a vinyl record of Michael Jackson narrating E.T.) I think CJ7 is meant for kids, although kids of all ages might enjoy it. I can’t think of any Chinese kids movies that I’ve seen in the past. Come to think of it, I rarely see kids movies of any ethnicity, even animated ones. I don’t know what prompted the making of this movie so long after the release and re-release of ET.
I don’t think I would be spoiling the movie if I described the alien since it’s pictured on the movie poster. Naturally, it has big eyes since humans have an innate tendency to find cuteness in any big eyed lifeforms like human babies. Its head reminds me of the main character of the movie Chicken Little, but with a Pikmin-like appendage on top. And it has an anthropomorphic Flubber-like body.
Stephen Chow plays the single father to the boy who befriends the alien although with some trepidation at first. The father and son are trying to make ends meet, and live in a massive shack in a junkyard. The father cannot afford the toys that his son’s schoolmates flaunt. A pretty schoolteacher befriends the boy who is treated as an outcast by mostly everyone else because the boy is poor. One of his sympathetic school-mates is a large male dressed up as a girl with a small girl voice.
There is much visual humour, enough to hold my interest through the conversational scenes, which I didn’t understand as I mentioned earlier. Since kids find humour in disgusting things, there are scenes involving nasal mucous and defecation. I don’t know if the Chinese have a phrase for “political correctness,” but their movies would seem to indicate that they don’t.
The kid is the main focus of the movie, and he does an admirable acting job. I think he outmugs Macaulay Culkin from Culkin’s Home Alone days. I think the CGI for the alien is decent enough, but it’s the kid’s acting that makes me believe in the alien character. Stephen Chow stays in the background for the most part and lets the kid shine.
Of course, the kid has problems communicating with the alien, but as with any pet, there is a bond that overcomes the communication barrier. The alien has special powers that the kid tries to take advantage of, but humorous results follow, some not so expected.
The musical soundtrack is somewhat odd. Whimsical. I think there is a cover version of a fey English song from the seventies. (The strangest use of English music I’ve heard in a Chinese movie would have to be a version of Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury in which direct extracts from Pink Floyd’s “Time” are used during the climactic fight sequence.) Whoever the music composer is, I would say he’s a third-rate Danny Elfman.
I did recently see The Last Mimzy, which was generally panned by most critics. The reason I saw this kids movie was because it was based on a famous science-fiction story. I enjoyed The Last Mimzy because I cared about the characters and I wondered what was going to happen at the end. And the ending didn’t disappoint me. These are the same reasons why I enjoyed CJ7.
Perhaps I should admit that I didn’t quite understand the ending of CJ7. I don’t think the kid saw it coming either.
I know you’re probably asking yourself what CJ7 stands for or what CJ7 means. I think the kid calls the alien CJ, which may mean something in Chinese. I suppose I could save you the trouble of looking this up on the Internet by doing the search myself. OK, I will. Stay right there. This will take a second.
Holy crap! If Wikipedia can be believed, the kid was played by a girl! Man, she deserves an Oscar. She completely fooled me!
Hmm… Stephen Chow produced, wrote and directed this film. (Sean will probably provide this information before this review, but I’m just finding out now.)
Oh, CJ7 refers to the Chinese manned space program. — Reed