"Stephen Chow's answer to E.T. - but without the Hallmark moments - is a fun light-hearted comedy with enough action and adventure to please even the most stoic cynics."
AKA: Alien, Yangtze River VII, Long River 7, A Hope
Director: Stephen Chow
Producer: Stephen Chow
Writer: Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Vincent Kok, Sandy Shaw, Kan-Cheung Tsang
Cast: Stephen Chow, Xu Jiao, Kitty Zhang Yuqi, Yuen Qiu, Danny Chan Kwok Kuen, Tin Kai Man
Running Time: 86 min.
Plot: See review below.
NINGEN'S REVIEW: Dicky (played by newcomer child actress Ju Xiao) is an impoverished youngster living with his hard-working dad (played by Stephen Chow) who does dangerous construction jobs to pay for Dicky's private school. After being taunted by his peers for his dirty appearance, his second-hand clothes (including shoes obtained from garbage dumps), and his short height, Dicky simply wants a high-tech toy dog to impress the other kids at school. But with his father being too poor to afford it, Ti (Chow) scours the dumps, and finds a mysterious green ball which turns out to be an egg for a space dog. Dicky hopes the dog will help improve his rank at school.
Stephen Chow's answer to E.T. - but without the Hallmark moments - is a fun light-hearted comedy with enough action and adventure to please even the most stoic cynics. Unlike other children's films, CJ7 doesn't rely on "Ugly Duckling" - like cliches in which the lead gets magical powers or becomes a success story overnight. In fact, the picture pokes fun at those ideas by having Dicky re-enact his super-powered dreams [depicted as amusing spoofs of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer] in real life with disastrous results. No, CJ7 (the name of the alien dog) is as frail as his (her?) child owner. But the pet does aid Dicky's family when they need it most. These moments serve to make the point that true satisfaction comes from having someone who cares about you and vice versa, not your status, or a symbol thereof. The peers of the child star come off as brats, by throwing their weight around, but they eventually learn that respect comes from cooperation and humility, not bullying.
The CG isn't used as extensively as in most Hollywood films, but that's why it works so well. Instead of going the Pixar route of making everything as realistic as possible, Chow opts for making the scenes as cartoonish and whimsical as possible. For example, fights and facial expressions are exaggerated and powers are expressed in minimalistic, but creative terms. [For example, instead of going the infrared route when cheating on a test, Dicky's glasses have robotic flies which spy on other students' papers.]
The comedy is admittedly meant for a younger crowd, but it manages to appeal to older audiences by not coming off childish. One can easily put oneself in the children's shoes without feeling like they've outgrown the setting. And it's refreshing to see kids who act like kids, not know-it-all adults.
At the sneak I caught, Stephen said he modeled his CG dog after a real dog he used to have called a Pekingese, which caused someone in the audience to hoot in response. His experience as a host of a children's show helped prepare him for working with them on a movie. [Though it wasn't always easy for them to stay awake on set....] Ju Xiao was one of thousands of children who auditioned for the role, and was surprised she got picked to play a boy, but seemed to adjust to the part with Stephen's support.
The film was shot entirely in Mandarin, because Chow argued that he wanted to be fair to the child actors, since their primary language was Mandarin.
NINGEN'S RATING: 8.5/10