Director Stephen Chow, the Hong Kong filmmaker who gave us Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004), has crafted an odd, certainly screwball, children's tale that children, and only children, could appreciate. That's only if your American children are adept at either reading subtitles or understanding basic Cantonese. Mostly anything else, they can infer from the big, expressive reactions from both Stephen Chow who stars as well as the film's young co-star, Jiao Xu.
Jiao Xu plays Dicky, the son of a Chinese construction worker named Ti, played by Stephen Chow. Dicky and his father are very poor. Dicky's father is so poor that he can't afford to buy his son new shoes. They live in a condemned house that's infested with cockroaches and killing the numerous black insects is what Dicky does for fun. Dicky's father works overtime to send Dicky to a private school, but it leaves little money for anything else.
When Dicky goes to school and tells people his father found his ratty shoes and a lot of the other things in his possession at the local dump, the kids make fun of him. Dicky proudly stands up and pronounces that he prefers his poverty.
Dicky's father has informed his son with humility and a good humor about their situation, so that even though Dicky knows he's poor, he has no shame, and appreciates what little he does have. However, one day, the school bully named Johnny brags about a new toy, a robotic dog that he's just received called CJ1.
Later, Dicky sees the robotic dog in the store window and asks his dad for one. Obviously, his dad can't buy it. When his father sternly tells him no, Dicky throws a tantrum. This starts the story down its arc, which will bend the relationship of this father-son duo to a conclusion that's ultimately stupid.
Unfortunately, Chow doesn't resonate this relationship. The parent-child dynamic in the cartoon Inspector Gadget felt more real than the one here. It's funny because this film seems just as cartoonish as that 1983 animated series.
When Dicky doesn't get the toy he wants, another that his father stumbles upon in a junkyard becomes the substitute and is soon learned to be some kind of magical toy from outer space. Except, it's not a toy. It looks and somewhat acts like a puppy dog. It has a small, green body like a dog's, yet its head is a cute, golden furball with a tiny, green antenna on top.
Dicky calls it CJ7, after the toy robotic dog. But instead of being man's man-made best friend, it's probably My Favorite Martian's best friend. It does have special abilities, but Dicky isn't ever privy to them. CJ7 provides Dicky with cool devices to help him in school, but they all backfire.
For a good chunk, Chow focuses the film on one lame gag, involving those cool devices, after another, that become over-the-top ridiculous, which may have been the point, because it would have been consistent with Chow's other works. After a while, however, the lame gags cease being funny, especially when it becomes apparent that they're all Chow has here.
Chow may have been inspired by Spielberg's E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial (1982), and he may be able to match that film's quirky, adorable nature, but Chow misses the heart at what that movie was. Chow presents a candy-colored scenario that is no better than Saturday morning filler.
I'm also not sure where the idea came from to make a little girl play the boy's role and have a boy play the girl's role but with a clearly dubbed voice, but it took me right out of the movie.
Two Stars out of Five
Rated PG for rude humor and brief smoking
In Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 1 hr. and 26 mins.