It’s been two years since ComingSoon.net last talked to Chinese filmmaker Stephen Chow for Kung Fu Hustle, and he’s back with his latest comedy CJ7, which brings a sci-fi twist to his usual style of comedy. In the movie, an impoverished single father (played by Chow) finds a strange toy for his young son at a junkyard which turns out to be a strange alien creature that the boy brings to school to help him overcome bullies.
It’s sometimes hard to get Mr. Chow to open up, especially when going through an interpreter, but this time, he had a secret weapon in Xu Jiao, the 9-year-old girl who plays his movie son Dicky Chow. She nearly steals the movie from her film father and she nearly did the same when ComingSoon.net talked to the duo in New York.
“We had a couple ideas of development at the time after ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ and we were thinking of doing ‘Kung Fu Hustle 2’ but that just didn’t come to fruition, so we took one of the ideas that was more appealing to children and went with that idea,” Mr. Chow told us. “A lot of it was definitely influenced by ‘E.T.’ and based on my childhood memories, as well as the fact as when I was growing up, I was poor, so that influenced the storyline as well. I wanted to create something that was appealing to children and something that was close to my heart.”
Xu knew Mr. Chow’s work from before she made the movie, and she might even have known his reputation for discovering talented young actresses, but it didn’t prepare her for having to change genders for the part. “I was really surprised that I had to play a boy,” she giggled. “I was like, ‘I’m a girl, why do I have to play a boy?’ I found that to be really strange, but once I realized that was what I had to do, I tried to be a really good at it and get into the part. Initially, I didn’t have a lot of confidence but throughout the whole production process, I learned and watched other boys and engaged myself with other boys to get a sense of what it is to be a boy. I have an older brother, but his characteristics and personality is really different from the character I had to play. Mr. Chow helped me a lot, giving me guidance and directions.”
“She’s really talented as an actor,” Mr. Chow confirmed about the odd choice. “She had all the basic requirements and through the test shots, she was able to meet all my demands in terms of playing different kinds of roles. At the end of the day, she was the best person for the job, even though she’s a girl. We just wanted to work with her to play the boy’s role.”
The role of Dicky Chow must have been hard on the young girl who had never acted in a film before, and suddenly had to carry this action-packed comedy. “Although it was really strenuous with the comedy and the sad parts, I had a lot of fun,” the young actress proclaimed. “For the comedic moments, I think about happy thoughts and folks on set will try to get me to laugh and Mr. Chow will motivate me to think about happy things so I can get into that part. Then also for the parts where I needed to cry or look sad, I’d think about sad things.”
“Working with a child actor, you need to develop a lot of patience, and I had to change my behavior on set a lot: not curse, and just control my behavior and my frustrations,” Chow admitted. “Initially, it was frustrating, because obviously, working with a child is very different from an adult, but for me, I realized that as the process went on, you can have a common happy environment on set and still get the result that you want from your actors.”
CJ7 is rumored to have been one of the most expensive films produced in China, and a lot of that money went into designing and realizing Dicky’s alien pet, which looks like a three-dimensional Pokemon with a very expressive face. It’s a very different use of CG FX than Mr. Chow’s last few movies, and he explained how they designed the adorable creature. “The idea came about because I had a dog when I was younger, kind of like a Peking dog that had big eyes, so that was the characteristics and the design that went into CJ7. I’m also influenced by Japanese comic books and Manga when I was a child so I pulled a lot of the influences from that and wanted to create a character that was very comical, but also very different from E.T. and what already exists.”
The most surprising thing about CJ7 is that its PG-rating will make it a film that older kids will love, but it’s an odd decision considering what Mr. Chow went through with Shaolin Soccer, which was dubbed for its U.S. release to be able to find a younger audience that couldn’t follow subtitles. He explained the decision to make what many might see as a kids’ film. “With ‘Shaolin Soccer,’ I thought it was a good movie for everyonefor teenagers and adultsbut for this one, I specifically wanted it to appeal to families as well as kids Xu’s age, and that was really my goal, to appeal to families and to little kids, and I hope to achieve that goal with this movie.”
Xu hasn’t attended any acting schools, though she did take a talent class before filming the movie, but at this point, she’s not sure if she wants to continue acting having starred in a major Chinese motion picture, as she told us as our interview concluded: “I’m going to keep learning and when it comes to acting and films, I’ll just see what happens next. I’m not really sure.”