Guest Author - Gail Kavanagh
While this Hong Kong movie is made for children, there may be some reservations on the part of western parents to letting their kids see it. However, if your kids do see it, I can guarantee they will love it.
CJ7 is directed by Stephen Chow, who also plays one of the leading roles – and let me say right at the start that I believe Chow is a certified, card carrying movie genius in the footsteps of Charlie Chaplin . I have most of his movies, and watch them over and again.
Chow's movies always have fun and laughter in them, with a refreshing lack of the smuttiness and heavy tongue tangling so apparently necessarily in modern movies. There is fighting, in the form of balletic kung fu, but generally I would recommend them for kids. I know my grandchildren love Stephen Chow and watch his movies with me. CJ7 has been practically worn out.
Chow plays Ti, a hard working, down at heel 'coolie' (or labourer), who sends his son Dickie to a good school so the boy won't end up like him. As a consequence, Ti and Dickie live in dire poverty, in a partly demolished house, while Ti scavenges for food, and tries to keep his son clothed from the local dump.
Here is the first surprise – Dickie is played by a little girl, Xu Ziao, whose performance is nothing sort of awe inspiring. She takes the lead over Chow in this movie, who rightly lets her steal all the scenes. He keeps his usual scene stealing humour and charm at low key. It's a Stephen Chow movie, all right, but not as we know it.
As with all Chow movies, though, the underlying theme is moral strength. Ti repeatedly reminds his son that, though they are poor, they don't lie, steal or live useless lives. Chow is anti almost everything a Hollywood movie represents, where the bad guys win and sex sells. He will have none of that.
But he is also a devastatingly honest film maker. The relationship between Ti and his son is obviously a loving one, but some scenes that may disturb western viewers show Ti punishing Dickie by slapping him on the leg and locking him in a cupboard. The struggles of a single father with not enough money to even buy fresh apples is not glossed over by Chow. There is no friendly welfare service to fall back on, and his only support is Dickie's schoolteacher, the lovely Miss Yuen, who befriends the desperate family. Dickie's other teachers look down on him, and they and the school bullies also treat Dickie badly.
But this is a fantasy with science fiction elements, so magic is guaranteed in the form of a little visitor from outer space whom Ti finds at the dump. Dickie wants the latest whiz bang toy so badly that he and his father have an argument over it in the store, so Ti, feeling bad about it, hopes that this strange object will be even better.
It is – it turns into one of the most engaging CGI characters ever created. CJ7 is a cute little doglike creature with magic powers. They are not the magic powers that Dickie is hoping for, but they prove to be phenomenal nevertheless. Some viewers have also been appalled at the handling of CJ7 by some of the characters, claiming it shows cruelty – but he is CGI, folks, and those characters don't even know that it isn't a toy. These same viewers don't seem to feel as emotional over the lives Ti and his son live, as depicted with raw honesty by Chow.
Ultimately, those concerns aside, CJ7 is a gem of a movie, created with Chow's painstaking care, and featuring a performance by a young actress that will live long in the mind. In true Chow form, everybody learns valuable lessons; that love is better than anything else, and a happy ending beats a sad one any day.
I purchased my DVD copy of CJ7 with my own funds.