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"CJ7" (2008) - The lives of a poor father and his son in China improve when the father discovers a mysterious creature at a junkyard.

“CJ7” arrives on DVD August 12.

For entertainment value alone, I haven’t seen a better movie this year than “CJ7,” the new film from director/actor/co-writer Stephen Chow (“Shaolin Soccer,” “Kung Fu Hustle”). The movie isn’t some kind of revelation, though: one subplot could have been handled better, and from a technical level, the movie isn’t phenomenonal. But like the character of the father who finds shoes in the dumpster and improves them, Chow takes bits and pieces from different genres and styles to make what is, on the whole, a wonderful piece of work.

Dicky (Jiao Xu) is the well-behaved sweet kid that gets bullied at school that we all remember from elementary school. His dad, Ti (Chow), works countless hours on a construction site to make money for his son’s private-school tuition. He raises Dicky on the ideal that even though they are poor, it’s no excuse to fight, to steal, or to lie. “If you have dignity,” says Dicky, repeating his father’s motto, “you will always have the respect of others.”

While digging through a junkyard, Ti comes across a green ball, which he gives to his son as toy. Dicky soon discovers the plaything is actually an alien creature with a head that looks like a Furby and a body like Flubber. Because Dicky thinks his new pet is better than his bully’s expensive toy, CJ1, Dicky names his find CJ7.

One of the main successes of the movie is the design of the title character. Throughout cinema, expressive characters from the Tramp to Pixar creations have given audiences treasured memories, and CJ7 is no different. At one point, he makes facial expressions, running the gamut from “sad” to “just won the lottery,” at the request of children. And he can dance. Do I really need to explain why that’s so great?

And especially appropriate for the movie, given the animated title-character, Chow’s trademark cartoon style makes me laugh-out-loud more than just smile with amusement. Only in a Chow movie–or Bugs Bunny short–can a filmgoer see someone throw a child across a town square, fight martial arts with a P.E. teacher, and run so fast as to break a treadmill. Even while his style may seem childish, it’s very dear to my heart.

The joys of the movie are summed by Chow’s treatment of a single character: the tall, overweight girl with a high-pitched voice that contrasts with her size–who is uncredited. After Dicky defends her from a bully in the beginning of the movie, she falls for her hero, but Dicky doesn’t find her attractive. Chow, as director, doesn’t treat her like a dumb oaf, though. He shows her as the big friendly giant, as Enoch Emory in a gorilla suit: approaching people and scaring them away, even though they only want to shake hands.

Based on the story’s focus on morality, I’d be willing to bet Armond White puts “CJ7” on his top-ten list at the end of December. However, unlike some movies that White is willing to praise for their discussions of morals, “CJ7” brings to life a gentle, fragile story about a boy who needs something more in his life–and who can’t relate? Anyone who felt alone once as a kid or was an only child, like myself, can understand both Dicky’s pain and joy as he discovers something that he cares about so much.

Rating: *** out of ****

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One Comment

  1. You said it all. I watched it last night and enjoyed it mightily. I can’t understand all the negative reviews online. But then, I seem to recall reading that The Wisard of Oz didn’t fare too well with the critics either, when it first came out!

    I particularly liked your analysis of
    the little alien CJ7. It’s not often that I fall in love with an animated
    character, but I did in this case!

    The movie made me laugh and cry–my criteria for true cimenatic excellence.

    One tidbit that you may be interested in–I discovered, via my web search for reviews of the movie, that the character of Dickie was actually played by a girl! Along with CJ7, she
    illuminates the movie.

    I differ with your review only in that I give it four stars.

    Thanks for a great review of a great film.


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