Stephen Chow is huge, no doubt about that. In the West, he is known through his latest films (Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle), but in the East he's been a comedy phenomenon for years. He started his career in the early '90s as an actor, launched by several famous Hong Kong directors. It didn't take him long to start directing films himself, which brought him his current fame.
A new Chow film is probably the most important public film event throughout the larger part of Asia. That said, the stakes were high for Cheung Gong 7 Hou [CJ7].
Chow is best known for his typical comedy formula: a mix of Hong-Kong humor, parody and crazy special effects that make his films stand out from the crowd. In that sense, CJ7 will be a surprise to many viewers. Talking about viewer expectations, Chow's new film could be compared to Danny Boyle's Millions. A film from a director that throws himself at the children's market without losing too much of its own identity, but with the chance of losing many of its initial fans.
CJ7 contains enough typical Chow humor to make it recognizable, but at the same time CJ7 is targeted at a younger audience, with many themes lifted directly from other children's films. Take ET, add some Totoro, mix it with Chow's comedy and what you have is something close to CJ7. It's probably a good thing to realize this before going into the movie, as many will go in with the wrong idea and will be left disappointed by the film.
If you get used to the idea that this film is a bit different from Chow's other films, it turns out to be a pretty sweet, nifty and funny film after all. Most of the main roles are played by small kids, and they do a pretty great job. The main role is a bit too soft maybe, but the mini-triad kid is hilarious, the fat kids are plain weird (I wonder how they were filmed) and the little girl is really too cute.
Of course there's also the alien, which is a cuddly little animal. It's digitally created but feels like a living, breathing, rubber bath toy. An awesome creation that plays a large part in the film's charm. To make it complete, Chow himself takes on the role of the father, which he does well (as usual). I think Chow's style of acting can easily put people off, as he seems pretty aware of the comedic scenes he's delivering (much like Takeshi Kitano), but his presence on screen is warm and compelling enough not to be bothered by it.
The film looks pretty lush and colorful, Chow really made some progress in the visual department. Although the special effect are still behind Hollywood standards, Chow keeps them functional and funny at all times, which makes the lacking technical qualities easy to forgive. The soundtrack could have been a bit less dramatic I think, although I guess those are the downsides of making a film mostly targeted at kids.
CJ7 is still a funny film, though the number and range of gags is a lot smaller. They are replaced by a pretty typical but warm children's tale. The result is a film that could charm you as easily as it could disappoint you. Chow is enough of a director to pull it off, but those wanting another typical Chow comedy will be left with empty hands. Those willing to go along with Chow's fluff will be treated to a fun and cutesy film.