Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring:||Stephen Chow, Min Hun Fung, Chi Chung Lam, Shing-Cheung Lee, Jiao Xu, Kitty Zhang Yuqi|
“Kung Fu Hustle,” “Shaolin Soccer”
|Producer:||Stephen Chow, Po Chu Chui, Sanping Han, Vincent Kok, Connie Wong|
|Distributor:||Sony Pictures Classics|
Stephen Chow’s “CJ7” is a cross between “Flubber” and “ET.” Ostensibly, this cuteness makes it a children’s movie, but there are adult-like and even scatological elements in the movie which will make the average Christian (and maybe non-Christian) parent alternately squirm and wince.
The premise of “CJ7” is that a puppy-like alien lands on Earth and becomes the property of Dicky (Jiao Xu) who appears to be the poorest ten (?) year old boy in all of China. The alien is endearingly cute and would be irresistible to small children, but parents must use caution in which children they allow to see it. There are moments of despair which make it difficult to gauge what age child can process elements of the story without becoming extremely upset. It is important that parents know, going into the movie, that there are violent emotional scenes in order to prepare sensitive children.
At one point, the father, Ti (played by Stephen Chow) and Dicky argue bitterly and wish the other would go away. Ti dies in an accident, and Dicky feels personally guilty. The moment is devastating until Ti is resurrected by the miracle-working CJ7. At another point, Dicky’s character is transformed for the worse, and he nearly drowns CJ7. He immediately regrets it, but the sequence would be disturbing to a young child.
Ti is a manual laborer who works hard and skips meals to send his son to an upper-class middle school where the children commute via Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce automobiles. Dicky is mocked for his poverty and does poorly in school.
When asked by the teacher what they want to be when they grow up, two of the boys answer they want to be rich. Dicky answers that he wants to be poor, causing the class to laugh at him. To paraphrase, he says “My father says that if I don’t lie, don’t cheat, and don’t steal, I can be poor with honor, and everyone will respect me.” The father is shown repeating this lesson three times throughout the movie, which reinforces the sincerity of his moral teaching.
As a consequence of that teaching, Dicky exhibits honorable traits by defending a large girl against abuse, by refusing to cheat on his schoolwork, and by never lying.
The trouble begins one day in a department store when Dicky is overcome by desire for a mechanical dog, CJ1, and he tries to walk out of the store without paying. His father spanks him, and Dicky runs away in anger. It is clear that Dicky’s materialistic desire had turned into greed and that he was forgetting the lessons that his father had taught him about how to be poor with integrity.
Then CJ7 arrives. Dicky has a dream that CJ7 gives him the power to excel academically, athletically, and socially. Corrupted by the possibilities, the next day he demands that CJ7 help him to get a 100 on his exam, just as he did in his dream. Instead of the special glasses he received in his dream, Dicky gets a pile of poop in his hand. He comically takes the perfect pile to class and glances at it occasionally, waiting for it to morph into a magic answer sheet. Of course it doesn’t, and the moral is: “garbage in, garbage out.” If you put refuse into your academic work, you will get refuse out of it. However, Dicky doesn’t learn this until he abuses CJ7, a scene which could upset small children.
During the course of the movie, the characters state “Pray to God” and “Help me, Lord!” This came as a surprise, because writer/director Chow’s previous movies are “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung-fu Hustle,” both of which extol the virtue of traditional Chinese teachings and critique the materialism of the West. Combined with the father’s moral teachings, these two brief speeches add a surprising spiritual element to the movie that enhances its appeal to a Christian audience (although it is not a “Christian” movie).
The movie, like Chow’s two previous films, celebrate the honorable qualities of being poor, of working hard to get ahead, and of being honest. “CJ7” doesn’t fit comfortably into any genre, which is probably why my son and I were the only ones in the theater watching it. But for children 11 years old and above, it teaches a valuable lesson that children and parents are partners together in life, sharing love, friendship, and trust with one another in times of poverty or despair. Ultimately, without being obvious, it shows the redeeming and resurrecting power of love that comes from the heavens in answer to prayer.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.