Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to highlight films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…

Hong Kong! When it comes to movies, The Big Lychee (Hong Kong) is known mostly for action. One of the main players in the genre is Stephen Chow. Best known for his crossover hits Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, Chow has been making action movies laced with comedy since the eighties. What Chow hasn’t really made, and what’s missing from a lot of Hong Kong cinema, is a true family film. Until now.

CJ7 isn’t Chow’s usual fare. It’s not about physical comedy, wacky fighting moves, or the inventive use of CGI. At least not for the first twenty-four minutes. Chow plays a single father named Ti who’s trying hard to raise his son, Dickie (played by a girl, Jiau Xu), with love, integrity, and very little money. The two live in a shack, wear shoes rescued from garbage dumps, and survive on the bare minimum provided by Ti’s construction jobs. The one area where Ti spares no expense is Dickie’s education, so he puts most of his money into a nice private school in the hopes that his son will have opportunities he himself never had. Aside from the father and son, we’re also introduced to the diminutive and highly expressive school bully, a giant girl crushing Dickie, his incredibly hot teacher Miss Yuen (played by the incredibly hot Kitty Zhang Yugi), and news reports of UFO sightings in the area. After the cool kid at school shows off his new robotic dog, CJ1, Dickie whines and cries for one until Ti brings home something “better than CJ1″… a green beach ball from the dump. Dickie brings it to school, dubs it CJ7, and the magical movie homages begin.

ET, Spy Kids, Mission Impossible II, even Chow’s own Shaolin Soccer all make an appearance. The ball takes the shape of a neon, squeaky-voiced dog with an afro and soon shows off more than the usual canine tricks. CJ7 dances, turns rotten fruit fresh again, knows kung-fu, and has a science lab/workshop in his abdomen. Well half of those only occur in Dickie’s dreams, but CJ7 is still a talented little Chia Pet from outer space. The boy and his “dog” have some misadventures both real and imagined, and almost always cleverly entertaining. The comedic antics outweigh the inevitable drama until the final fifteen minutes (it’s basically an ET clone after all) when tragedy strikes.

CJ7 isn’t nearly as funny or eye-popping as Chow’s more well-known action comedies, but it’s still pretty entertaining. As a family film, I’d say it’s better than the recent Jackie Chan/Jet Li team-up The Forbidden Kingdom. The CGI is quite good, Jiau Xu is extremely talented and appealing, and there were some very funny bits scattered loosely throughout including a hysterical CJ7 poop scene. (The line where Ti tells Miss Yuen that he’s putting his Dickie in her hands also made me laugh even as I felt bad for doing so…) When it comes time to tug at your heartstrings, the movie does so in an entirely predictable manner… but still manages to moisten the eyes thanks in large part to Xu’s performance.

The movie fails to connect as a whole though, both logically and emotionally. A cute recap at the end details the current state of all the main players… but none of it really required CJ7’s arrival. Very little has changed by the film’s ending aside from the circumstances. And I don’t know how big of a deal it was in Hong Kong when this released last year, but the final shot of the film screams “merchandising opportunity.” That said, CJ7 is fun, it never drags, and it’s one of the very few Hong Kong films that could truly keep a child’s attention in a positive way.

The Upside: Funny and harmless entertainment for kids and adults; a good family film from Hong Kong is a rarity; Jiau Xu is engaging and amazing

The Downside: Not very fulfilling; not enough screen time for Kitty Zhang Yugi and her tight white dress; some erratic character behavior

Grade: B


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