Chow's echoes of ET
Hong Kong's King of Comedy's latest effort is a lacklustre sci-fi comedy
Comedian-cum-director Stephen Chow Sing-chi has produced his most serious movie to date: CJ7.
This is sad news for fans of Shaolin Soccer and God of Cookery, movies that are too funny to be taken seriously. CJ7, a science-fiction family comedy, is the exact opposite of the two blockbusters: it's too serious to be funny.
The movie stars Chow as Ti, an impoverished mainland construction worker who is being exploited at work.
Despite the hardships, he is determined to provide the best for his son Dicky (played by 10-year-old mainland child actor Xu Jiao, who is actually a girl).
While looking for old toys for his son, Ti plucks a green ball out of a rubbish dump. He gives the ball to Dicky, who discovers it's actually an alien dog.
What follows is a story that crosses ET: The Extra-Terrestrial with Tom and Jerry. There are soppy moments for the adults that aim to draw tears as well as silly slapstick for child viewers.
In short, Chow wants CJ7 to have something for everyone, from grandparents to toddlers.
But while CJ7 aims to be everything, it ends up being nothing - a film that is neither funny nor touching. The movie is a classic example of a natural born comedian bogged down by his lofty ambitions.
Chow is no Robert De Niro. He was born to be outrageous and funny, not glum and serious. Audiences don't want to a Stephen Chow movie which is a contrived look at family values. They just want to laugh their heart out.
All of Chow's movies - such as his autobiographical film King of Comedy - have messages, but the life lessons always come after the jokes. By discarding his unique brand of mo lei tau humour, a blend of one-liners with nonsensical parodies and double entendre, Chow is seriously unfunny.
CJ7 is like a Rocky movie without the boxing.
Chow's eighth directorial effort, the film also reveals his limitations as a filmmaker. The spectacles of real-size flying saucers and the digitally fabricated alien dog are mediocre, and there's a lack of emotional coherence in the storytelling.
Above all, most characters are roughly sketched, not fully developed enough to be touching.
Xu saves the film from being unwatchable by producing an well-rounded performance that belies her tender age. Chow offers a few funny moments - but for most of the film he's too busy playing a preachy dad.
CJ7 is likely to be another blockbuster due to lack of substantial rivals at the box office this Lunar New Year.
But it's time for Chow to rethink his future projects. To be funny or not to be? That is the question.