Fri April 18, 2008
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"It can be demonstrated that the child's contact with the real world is strengthened by his periodic excursions into fantasy. It becomes easier to tolerate the frustrations of the real world and to accede to the demands of reality if one can restore himself at intervals in a world where the deepest wishes can achieve imaginary gratification." Selma H. Fraiberg, Child Psychologist
Stephen Chow is a big star in Asia, and his fantasy CJ7 is a big hit. Although I'm not sure American audiences will return a Jackie-Chan-like box office bundle for this E. T. homage, I do know that allegorical, off-the-wall, science fictional kid flicks like this are rare and fun if you give yourself into their absurdity.
Some critics liken Chow to Jerry Lewis; Chow is much more imaginative than Lewis, relying as Chow does less on slapstick and more on the intriguing impulses of a small Chinese boy, whose poverty serves as a catalyst for his life-defining experience discovering an outer space dog-like companion and his own love for a hapless but adorable father. Overcoming the bullying about his status in the playground and finding love in a classmate, teacher, father, and alien are enough for most of us in a lifetime.
Chow handles the eccentric material with ease as he minimizes CGI and marginalizes himself for the impressive talents of young Jiao Xu (actually a girl) as the growing-up-fast Dickey. The film comes close to Lassie-like sentiment but never fully settles in that territory. The requisite moralizing, in this case about the importance of love and education, is not suffocating, and the imaginative dream sequences are just that: out-there fantasies of a boy who needs a faithful toy and loving father.
The Yangtze River is known as "Changjiang" in Mandarin, therefore the shortened "CJ," which is also the name for Chinese activities such as space probes. No matter, for these multiple references serve to emphasize the lighter than air world of a man, his boy, and a space dog.
E. T. has come home again in a different form with much less fanfare, yet every child has to love the anarchy.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com