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    'CJ7' fails as story, but creates lovable animated character

    HONG KONG (AP): Hong Kong comedian Stephen Chow's attempt at pioneering the family movie genre in Chinese film fails as a story, but ``CJ7'' breaks new ground for the industry in creating a first computer-animated character with iconic potential.

    China's movie market is booming and budgets are creeping up to tens of millions of U.S. dollars (euros), but the film industry has been saturated with historical epics.

    Mindful of the trend, Chow says he set out to create China's first blockbuster family film, taking inspiration from Steven Spielberg's classic ``E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.''

    Failed by a lackluster script, ``CJ7'' fails to deliver heartwarming family humor, but it's redeemed by its computer-animated star _ the lovable extra-terrestrial dog-like creature CJ7, which the movie is named after.

    Chow stars in the movie, playing single father Ti, who works odd construction jobs to earn his son Dicky's tuition for an expensive private school. He's so poor he scavenges for abandoned sneakers for Dicky and the two live in a small room of an abandoned building.

    On one of his scavenging trips, he discovers a green ball object that eventually transforms into CJ7.

    China's rich-poor gap provides plenty of fodder for sarcasm, but Chow instead resorts to cliches like Dicky's rich classmate who flaunts his expensive robot toy. Much of the story revolves around classmates and a teacher who despise Dicky for his poverty.

    Chow also appears to lack a personal chemistry with children and his deadpan humor seems out of place in what's supposed to be a touching family story.

    Instead, the computer-generated CJ7 steals the show. It's a petite, dog-like creature with a green, jelly-like body and a furry head and a small antennae.

    CJ7 shows a full range of emotions and physical states _ like its tattered look after battling a real live dog. One of the most memorable moments sees CJ7 showing off his different expressions as Dicky's classmates offer scenarios such as acing a school test, the death of CJ7's family and witnessing a beautiful woman.

    CJ7, created by Hong Kong special effects company Menfond Electronic Arts, takes on a human personality of his own and it's a pity that Chow doesn't blend him into a more compelling story.

    Disney also tackled Chinese animation with last year's ``The Secret of the Magic Gourd,'' but that story was based on a famous Chinese children's story and Disney's take on the magical vegetable didn't generate huge excitement.

    With CJ7, modern Chinese film has its first original, Westernized computer-animated character with possibly iconic appeal like Nemo, Woody or Buzz Lightyear.



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