PLOT: Dicky Chow is the boy at the private school who is always dirty. His classmates and even some of his teachers make fun of him. He is not a good student but there is something charming about Dicky. His father works as a Chinese laborer but barely has any money due to his sons tuition. When the young lad wants a new toy that his father cant afford, dear old dad tries to make it up to him. He finds a strange green ball (next to a UFO which he doesnt notice). He takes the ball home and presents it to his son. They both soon realize that there is more to this green ball than meets the eye.
CJ7, the new fantasy from Stephen Chow director of KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER is a family film. One that has some of the most thematically depressing things I have seen this year on screen, its almost more depressing than SNOW ANGELS. The story revolves around a little boy named Dicky Chow (Xu Jiao) who is able to go to an exclusive school while his father Ti (Stephen Chow) works much too hard for what is barely a paycheck. He does it so his son can get a good education and not end up like him. The two live in a shack that looks like it should have been condemned a very long time ago. For fun, they squash cockroaches with their bare hands kung fu style. But they struggle to survive with an occasional rotten apple that Ti has to cut off the edges so they can have a meal. And lucky for Dicky, dear old dad occasionally finds him new shoes from the local junk yard. Meanwhile, the young boy is horribly picked on for his dirty clothes, not only by the other students but even the teachers. One of them refuses to let the boy get next to him. Did I happen to mention that this is a comedy?
One day, Dicky and his father find themselves in a fancy toy store where they are selling a cool robot dog that the popular kid at school has. He begs his father to let him have it but we all know there is no chance in hell he could ever afford this pricey merchandise. Dad ends up dragging a screaming child outside because he couldnt get the only thing he wanted. I felt really bad for this guy, he wants to do right for his son and the boy has no idea how much he is doing for him. So when he is denied an expensive toy, its hard to feel sympathy for him. But on a late night junk yard run, Ti discovers some sort of green ball. He brings it home to his son and of course Dicky doesnt like it. That is until he realizes that this green ball is more than just a ball, it is some sort of space dog. It is cute enough to make all your children forget about whatever fad happens to be going on right now. Seriously, they will all want a CJ7 for themselves.
It amazes me how so many childrens fantasies are as dark as they are. This film deals with incredibly violent bullies, the death of a family member and a child living under very poor living conditions. But somehow, Chow is able to bring a whole lot of life into it. CJ7 is so incredibly imaginative that while one moment seems grim and depressing, the next will be clever and funny. But my biggest problem with the film is just how tragic it gets. It seems like parents would have a lot of explaining after taking their child to this. But to be fair, a young girl in the audience at the screening I attended seemed to really love it. I just felt that it was a bit too dreary for the wee ones.
With that said, I loved the unique casting throughout the film. Xu Jiao is magnificent as the plucky hero Dicky. In fact, her performance as the little boy (yes, she plays a boy) is such an inspired casting choice that it elevates the movie. Her reactions to serious situations is terribly real, her performance as Dicky Chow is nothing short of perfection. It is fearless and will certainly bring her more roles to come. And yes, Stephen Chow and her share a very complex father-son relationship that is beautifully acted. Sometimes each of them annoyed the hell out of me like locking your kid in a closet over night what the hell is that? Maybe its a cultural thing but I sort of doubt it. But I believed in both of their performances.
But with all the darkness and the tragedy, I still found the film to be a spellbinding modern fable with a wonderful leading actress. Chow immerses his tale with some inventive images including the scene where Dicky is locked in said closet and finds himself beyond the stars. They glimmer around him as he comes closer to realizing what this thing his father found actually is. And what is it? Well, it looks sort of like a green ball filled with liquid, and a cute and cuddly face that looks to be some sort of anime puppy. This is basically a story where this strange looking animal and a young boy both find true meaning for what life is really about. It is Dicky who grows to appreciate his father and what he has done for him. And even CJ7 realizes there are things you have to give up for people that you love. But dang, that poor little space dog sure learns a hard lesson. It gets drilled, beaten up, smashed and so on. But dont worry, being shaped like a green ball makes it much easier to bounce back. Get it bounce.
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