August 30, 2008

DVD Review: CJ7

I was first introduced to writer/director Stephen Chow with his 2001 hit, Shaolin Soccer. The film was built upon the standard conventions of the sports drama, but rather than play within a rigidly defined set of rules, he took those rules and threw them out the window, leaving only the framework behind. He proceeded to create a zany film that was familiar and completely fresh at the same time. He followed that with the even crazier Kung Fu Hustle in 2004, which took a similar approach as the earlier film, only targeting the kung fu genre (duh) and playing faster and looser with the conventions. Where does he go next? Why, the family film, of course! Seemingly using E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial as his frame, he has crafted a movie that is funny, sad, and wildly imaginative at the same time. Unfortunately, it feels like a lesser film when taken in conjunction with prior efforts.

As the movie opens, we are introduced to Dicky (Jiao Xu4), the son of a poor construction worker named Ti (Stephen Chow). While his widowed father works hard for every penny he earns, he often goes hungry, putting his money towards an exclusive, and expensive, school for Dicky. He wants to give his son as much opportunity for success as he can, the opportunities he never had himself. Along the way he has ingrained in his son a strong moral code that includes not lying, cheating, stealing, or taking anything that does not belong to them. Good lessons that we all should include in our own lives.

While Ti is doing the best he can for his son, Dicky must deal with the kids and teachers at school. He is picked on and made fun of for being dirty and poor. It is not an easy life for youngster. One day, he spies one of the bullies playing with a new toy, a robotic dog called CJ1. Dicky is taken with it and begs his dad for one. Of course, the money isn't in the budget, and Dicky is left pouting.

This is where the story begins to move forward, after all the setup is in place it is time to begin the secret of CJ7. Ti often stops by the dump on his way home, looking for any items that could be useful, shoes, clothes, a fan, anything. As he is looking at an old television an alien spacecraft lift up from beneath the trash and takes off before Ti can see it. The ship leaves behind what looks like a green beach ball. He picks it up and takes it home to give to Dicky.

After playing with it a bit, the ball morphs into a little alien dog toy. Dicky sleeps with dreams of what this could mean for him. What follows are a series of adventures with his new toy, they are gleefully over the top and at times cartoonishly violent. However, everything points to the lessons that have been taught to Dicky by his father.

As you watch CJ7 you will be able to follow it with ease. It is true that Stephen Chow loves to play with genre conventions, but there is always that familiar path over which the narrative follows. This being the case, you will never have any doubt of where Chow is heading with the movie. Where the surprise and, dare I say, magic lies is in the ways the alien sequences are delivered. There is a sweet sense of magic to a lot of them, and Jiao Xu has an adorable presence.

My biggest problems with the film lie with the violence. Now, it is cartoonish and no one is in any danger of being hurt, but what happens to poor CJ7 just seems a bit too cruel. They batter and abuse the poor creature. Of course, they are assuming that it is a toy. I have to wonder why they never thought that it may be a sentient alien life form? I know, that may not be a big deal in the larger scheme once everything plays out, but I cannot help but be a little put off by it.

When it comes right down to it, the movie is fun. The writing leaves a little to be desired, but it does the job. It is an over-the-top film, which grants it a little more latitude in my eyes. Stephen Chow has a lot of talent, I just think I would rather see him stay away from the straight up family movies, such as this.

Audio/Video. The technical specs are just fine. The image is nice and crisp and audio is always clear. The video is 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen and the audio is presented in both an English 5.1 dub and the original Mandarin soundtrack, also in 5.1.

  • Commentary. There is a cast and crew commentary track that features Stephen Chow. The track is conducted in Mandarin and has subtitles.
  • CJ7: Mission Control. This is a simple little flash animation style game where you need to help get CJ7 home.
  • The Story of CJ7. This is an EPK style piece that talks about Chow's intentions with the film as well as the trouble in finding the children. It is a decent featurette. (13.5 minutes)
  • CJ7 TV Special. This special took a look inside the film. It has some good detail without getting too terribly in depth. (23 minutes)
  • Anatomy of a Scene. Remember the scene in the bathroom with the number 2? This takes a look at the making of that sequence. (6.5 minutes)
  • How to Bully a Bully. This is a goofy little featurette with some random guy disguised with computer animation as he tells about ways to beat a bully. I have no idea why this is here. (4 minutes)
  • How to Make a Lollipop. Again, a segment that just seems out of place. This tells you how to make a fake lollipop out of clay. (1.5 minutes)
  • CJ7 Profiles. Exactly what it says, a series of profiles in video form telling you what the characters like and don't like. (7 minutes)
  • CJ7 Trailer. The original US trailer. (2 minutes)
  • Previews. Trailers for a bunch of Sony releases, including a promo for Blu ray.

Bottomline. Not as gleefully fun as I was hoping it would be, but still solid family entertainment. It stands out for just being a little weird, which is always a good thing. This is worth spending some time with.



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