When I put together the list of movies that I’m looking forward to in 2008, one of the (many) films that I missed was CJ7, the latest from Stephen Chow — actor, writer, director, and all around comedic genius.
While Chow has been a huge star in Asia for years, due to his trademark brand of mo lei tau humor, it wasn’t until 2001’s Shaolin Soccer that he made a splash here in the States. And 2004’s Kung Fu Hustle only added to that, with its insane blend of martial arts, special effects, and cartoonish violence.
The first reviews of CJ7 have begun rolling in from around the web, and overall, they’re pretty positive, with a few concerns for the movie’s heavy reliance on special effects, Chow’s diminished persona in the film, and the receptivity of Western audiences.
His last film, Kung Fu Hustle, was an homage to three generations of martial arts movies. His latest, CJ7, is his loving tribute to Hollywood’s Cinema Of Spectacle, particularly the sci-fi genre. You’ll find a lot that’s familiar in the film, and that’s not a particularly bad thing because a Stephen Chow movie is almost like a movie-buff’s trivia game. CJ7 is clearly made in the mould of films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Batteries Not Included, and other such films. There’s an obvious nod to the era of those films in the the movie’s score which sounds very 80s.
You might think that I’m singing praises of Chow and his works, but yes, that’s the skyrocket high expectations that he had built for himself over the years with his rapid fire mo-lei-tau (nonsensical) comedic movies entertaining the masses pre and post 1997 Hong Kong, and now he can afford to take his time in releasing his movies once they pass through his perfectionist quality control. Sitting through CJ7, I had initially thought that it was amongst his weaker works, but then came the final act, which while it was emotionally manipulative, I cannot deny that I both laughed and cried at the same time, which is extremely rare, and only pulled off by Chow’s knack of structuring his scenes.
The comedy in this film is vintage Chow, meaning that if you have a lame or halt relative, or are afflicted with leprosy, you will be miraculously cured during the screening. I snuck in a bottle of water and halfway through the movie it was transformed into a very nice, somewhat oaky, Chardonnay. The comedy veers from parody, to toilet humor, to really sweet, exceptionally precise gags that wouldn’t be out of place in a Lubitsch film, and all of it feels like fine Shaker furniture: hand-crafted and precision tooled, the ultimate in finely-wrought, comedy workmanship, each joke the result of years of thought and deliberation.
Stephen Chow is back. Well, partly. The Chow that most Hong Kong audiences know and love is the lovable wiseacre from such classic films as From Beijing with Love and Fight Back to School, and that Chow hasn’t made a film in a long time. Over the last ten years, Chow has been a filmmaker rather than a comedian — not a bad trade-off considering that Chow has always been the star of his films, plus his trademark brand of visual comedy was always present. CJ7 gives audiences the latter, delivering hilarious animé-inspired comedy and a decent helping of sarcastic irreverence that should be familiar to the Chow faithful. What it doesn’t deliver is Stephen Chow as the star, and fair or not, that registers as a disappointment. Luckily, child actor Xu Jiao is quite funny, and CJ7 still has the ability to entertain and even touch audiences. However, Western fans whose Stephen Chow experience begins with Shaolin Soccer and ends with Kung Fu Hustle may not care for CJ7 at all. It’s easy to understand why.
CJ7 is due out here in the States on March 7, 2008. Watch the English version trailer below. (Yes, it looks cheesy as anything, but this is Stephen Chow we’re talking about here.)