If you're a fan of Stephen Chow's last two films, 2004's Kung Fu Hustle and 2001's Shaolin Soccer, you've come to expect Chow's unique blend of action, comedy, and melodrama. This time around, all those ingredients are there—but all the same, CJ7 isn't the movie you've been waiting four years to see.
CJ7's bizarre plot will feel familiar to Chow fans: Ti (Chow), a poor widowed father, can't provide enough for his son Dicky (played well by a young actress named Xu Jiao). Soon enough, though, Ti finds a robot/alien/flubber/pug thing in the garbage and gives it to his son. Hilarity ensues.
The PG-rated CJ7 is a kids' movie, plain and simple, which is pretty disappointing: Whimsy has always been incorporated into Chow's previous films, but it's been tempered with his over-the-top imagination and dynamic filmmaking. CJ7, though, is all whimsy all the time—but how well that'll play in America is up for debate, as the kindergarten-age core audience for CJ7 won't be able to read the Mandarin film's English subtitles. (The five-year-old I watched the movie with needed frequent plot updates, although she did laugh hysterically when someone got booted over the horizon or smacked in the face.)
Even for kids who can read, it would be hard to avert curious eyes from the ka-boing of CG that seems to increasingly be Chow's passion. Chow's imaginative use of CG in stuff like Kung Fu Hustle is tolerable, but it's hard to stomach here, where it's used constantly.
Hopefully, Chow made CJ7 so that a bazillion Chinese parents would take their kids to see it—thus allowing him to make big-budget ass-kickers from here on out. After all, Robert Rodriguez brought us Spy Kids between installments of the El Mariachi saga, and went on to make Sin City and Planet Terror. We can more than hope: Chow's currently working on Kung Fu Hustle 2, due out sometime in 2010.