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Friday, February 15, 2008

CJ7 長江七號

By far the most anticipated Chinese film of the year, Stephen Chow's CJ7 had to deal with sky-high expectations since it happened to be his first film since 2004's KUNG FU HUSTLE.

Due to the fact that he often keeps a low profile, Stephen Chow had never really appeared in tabloid as much as your usual teenybopper Taiwanese idol does, so it's unsurprising that people tend to take him for granted, overlooking the fact that two of the all-time top-grossing domestic films in Hong Kong were his films. KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER. (more than 5 of the 10 all-time top-grossing films in Hong Kong were Stephen Chow films) Or that he is already a cultural icon in Mainland China, so huge that he had a shelf dedicated just for books about him in bookshops. (Imagine walking past shelves that mark themselves: 'Fiction' 'Non-Fiction' 'Bestsellers' 'Film', 'Music' and then suddenly one that says 'Stephen Chow')

It was with 2001's Shaolin Soccer that Stephen Chow began making 'bigger' films, huge special effects extravaganza that often combine his humour (which were much subtler than his early 90s 'mo lei tau' fares) with martial arts (his major passion). And one would start noticing that as he began placing more attention in directing, he started appearing less onscreen, even though he remained the star, both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle were really ensemble films. It's really a source of complaint for many who were expecting to see Stephen Chow in every single frame of a film. Nonetheless, his move managed to help him discover many new stars, or revive many acting careers.

However, as much as I liked the two aforementioned films, I tend to think that his best directing fare was the dramedy 'King Of Comedy', which had zero special effects, but lots of character-driven moments and memorable lines. And that's the magic of Stephen Chow films, which often have a rather affecting core, they feel-good without feeling too manufactured nor contrived, and let's face it, Stephen Chow's really quite a sentimental sap. And those are what separate his films (aside from his inimitable humour) from the pretenders and imitators.

CJ7 is a film that is likely to infuriate many due to the fact that it's not your normal Stephen Chow film. And that's the most-repeated line from people I've asked about the film prior to seeing it myself.

"It's really different from your previous Stephen Chow films."

Some said it matter-of-factly, some said it as if it were a condemnation or an accusation.

Of course, CJ7 could be an underwhelming experience for anyone expecting it to be as outrageous as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, because this time, he didn't really try to up the ante he had set previously. This is NOT an intergalactic epic comedy with Stephen Chow battling aliens with martial arts to save the world. The film is really a quiet father-son dramedy that happened to have a cute little alien in it, so no, it's not entirely an ET remake as some claimed.

I'm throwing word 'dramedy' again because it's really not funny enough to be a laugh-out-loud comedy, but more a drama with many moments of wry humour.

Stephen Chow plays a poor labourer named Ti. But the actual protagonist of the film is really Ti's son Dicky, played by the actress Xu Jiao (yes, a little girl was casted to play a boy). The film really revolves around Dicky's relationship with his father, and his school life, and how his life changes when he meets the CJ7, this little (computer-rendered) alien, which, Lovehkfilm.com said it best, is 'part dog, part Flubber'.

There's really not much I can say about this film, yes, it's rather funny, and some side characters are memorable (the judo fat boy, the huge girl, the nose-picking disciplinarian, the loud-mouthed by soft-hearted boss etc.) And already, people are quoting lines from the film. For me, it's just a fluffy and heartwarming family movie that children will love, and tears-inducing for adults (I heard LOTS of sniffling when I was seeing it in the cinema, and I have to admit that I was pretty moved too, as predictable everything was)

So no, this film does not live up to the sky high expectations people had for it, but that's mostly because the film isn't what everyone was expecting. However, despite lukewarm reviews from critics... the film is still making a killing in the box-office.

Actually, this Chinese New Year is really considered by the media a showdown between Stephen Chow's CJ7 and Jay Chou's Kung Fu Dunk. But ultimately, it's barely a competition.

CJ7 made US$5 million in Hong Kong so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.6 million.

CJ7 made US$1.9 million in Malaysia so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.6 million.

CJ7 made US$2.2 million in Taiwan so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.5 million.

The only place where both films are remotely near is Singapore, where CJ7 made US$1.4 million and Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.9 million.

(Check the international box-office here if you're curious)

I'll review Kung Fu Dunk later.

CJ7 trailer