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Wednesday, Mar 5 2008

Something of a departure for Hong Kong's reigning master of special-effects slapstick Stephen Chow, CJ7 is a father-son fable transparently modeled on Steven Spielberg's ET. Chow plays a single dad who works as a day laborer to send his young son, Dicky, to an elite elementary school — where the kid is ridiculed by teachers as well as classmates for his raggedy clothes, poor hygiene, low test scores, and paucity of possessions. In his effort to get Dicky an expensive toy, Dad rummages through the garbage dump and inadvertently brings home an extraterrestrial left by a flying saucer. The "super space dog," as Dicky calls it, is a fluffy-headed, round-eyed dingbot with a flexible antenna and a stretchy, star-shaped body. Nearly as adorable as the pre-demonic gremlins in Joe Dante's gloss on the ET myth, the creature is also mysteriously unpredictable. CJ7 lacks the all-out f/x delirium of Chow's Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, but like all of the writer-director-star's films, it celebrates the underdog — a few Chinese critics have managed to read it as a political satire of the new Hong Kong. That the boy is actually and extremely well played by an eight-year-old girl, Xu Jiao, gives the movie an additional gimmick.

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J. Hoberman


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