Crazy & Cool: Stephen Chow’s CJ7

By Irma Arkus

Seemingly too close to ET for comfort, Stephen Chow’s CJ7 is bigger, better, smarter and more interesting than anything you might expect.

Whereas Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer have marked Chow as an international superstar, the announced CJ7 seemed like a calculated way to establish himself as an Asian Spielberg (another Stephen, huh?).

However, instead of mere pandering to sympathetic audience, the regurgitated storyline, of a single father and his boy living in poverty until an adorable alien creature changes everything, takes a turn and a twist toward the unexpected.

Oh sure, the boy, his father and the alien possess that level of cuteness that catapults the protagonists right up there with baby seals, but Chow resists making mediocre schlock and instead delivers a hot piece of social commentary in a changing landscape of Asia.

Chow plays a single father who supports himself and his son Dicky, by working on construction sites. He builds what he cannot afford. He takes only what people throw away. The job does not pay much, so the food is scarce, consisting mainly of rice and rotten apples, as most money goes to an expensive private school Dicky attends. They share a bed in a humble, one-room closet-like space, filled with roaches…andlove.

Their bond, moral codes and standards seem to clash against the wanton of the new generation obsessed with high-tech toys and things you can buy. Dicky’s dad desires to instill values dismissed by all around them. Dicky’s classmates are all about materialism, striving for celebrity and exclusivity status. These are children of capitalism and they consist of bullies and princesses.

Chow’s signature style of slapstick comedy, meets comic-book live action, is added to a lively mix of poop jokes, and gross-out moments. And the endearing exchanges, like the much ballyhooed roach-smack competition, are a visual candy and a mental tickle.

But all that takes second seat to the alien. CJ7, a supposed alien-puppy, changes Dicky’s meager existence in unpredictable ways. Dicky’s first impulse is to have high-tech gadgetry constructed by his highly intelligent, rubberized cuddle-buddy from space that would be the envy of his classmates, changing his loser status forever. CJ7 however, is smarter than that. Addicted to his love, CJ7 loyally delivers only things he needs, rather than those he desperately desires. Instead of creating cyber-punk sneakers for Dickey, for example, CJ7 exerts himself by fixing a broken fan on the hottest day of the summer.

It is this clash between values of new and old, discarded and adopted, maybe sometimes even recycled that offers an insight into changing world of Asian youth. It is also what marks Chow as a director that is already an Asian Spielberg, more magical and crazy cool than we ever suspected.