I will be the first to acknowledge that I am not an expert on Hong Kong films aimed at children – indeed, CJ7 is one of the few I’ve seen. Therefore it’s very possible that elements that seem flaws and/or don’t appeal are seen as swell by the intended audience. However, from the perspective of one U.S.-based adult, CJ7 seems like a well-intentioned but less well-thought-out homage to/imitation of E.T., with a too-cute alien and a not-warm-enough relationship between extraterrestrial and child, as well as some class commentary that doesn’t quite work due to the film’s particular mixture of exaggeration and moments of seriousness. Those of us who thought CJ7 director/co-writer/star Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle was marvelous won’t find the same great balance of weirdnesses here.
Dicky Chow (Xu Jiao) is the young son of very poor construction worker Ti (Stephen Chow). Dicky is enrolled at an expensive school because his dad wants him to have an education; however, Dicky’s classmates make fun of his ragged clothing. After establishing Ti as an honorable man and the father/son bond as strong despite Dicky’s occasional fits over things he can’t have due to poverty – this section goes on much longer than we might expect – Ti brings home what he thinks is a toy found in a junkyard, unaware that he’s taken something off the roof of a disguised spacecraft. The “toy” turns out to be a Jello-bodied, furry-faced, huge-eyed little creature that can restore dead fruit to freshness (like Ned on Pushing Daisies). Dicky is thrilled, but at first expects too much of his new acquaintance.
Leaving aside the poo jokes (and there are many), Dicky’s dreams of grandeur lack the stuff of real wonder – they feel more like the stuff of Saturday-morning TV – and his treatment of CJ7 is really unpalatable. At the beginning of the association, and for a good while thereafter, there’s no sense of wonder on Dicky’s part at the magical qualities of CJ7, only a sense of entitlement. By the time there’s some actual affection from Dicky, a bad taste has been developed. As for CJ7, he behaves more like a dog than a being with either a human-like or utterly alien mind. This both makes Dicky’s treatment of CJ7 seem even worse – it’s one thing to do something to someone who can fight back, another to do it to a defenseless pet – and makes it more like a boy and his dog than a boy and his friend from another world.
On the upside, the father/son relationship has charm and young Xu – a girl playing a boy – has charisma. In his capacity as an actor, Chow is likable as Dicky’s dad and Kitty Zhang is quite fetching as an improbably devoted schoolteacher.
There are some enjoyable moments in CJ7, but for the most part, it all feels a bit haphazard.