Whenever some news show freaks out over a child prodigy, the kid usually has one trick. Admittedly, it's always impressive: He's been composing full-length operas since he was 3; she hit the world's fastest serve in tennis at 8; he can hack into your bank account between diaper changes. Bravo, boy and girls.
But frankly, Rachmaninoff at 5 is easy. Comedy at 9 is hard. But Xu Jiao might already be a virtuoso. Her exuberance sprays all over Stephen Chow's magic-toy farce "CJ7" like a can of agitated Jolt. She has impeccable slapstick timing. (Witness a hilarious scene with her, a discarded banana, and a Dumpster.) She makes dozens of faces, uses a thousand vocal inflections, and does both with unusually natural intelligence.
Mind you, she's managing all this while playing a 9-year-old boy named Dicky. Xu is so convincing that I didn't know what gender she was until five minutes ago. (Cate Blanchett, eat your heart out.) And Xu's never even acted before! If more American parents took their kids to Hong Kong-style family-friendly sci-fi (subtitles, shmubtitles), Xu would be a star.
"CJ7" is precisely the 80-something minutes of delirium and cheesy special-effects you'd expect from the man responsible for the chaos of "Shaolin Soccer" and the lunacy of "Kung Fu Hustle." Cheap is how Chow rolls. But the movie's technical shabbiness is very much its point. When Dicky and his single dad, Ti (Chow), smash cockroaches on the wall of their dingy janitor's closet of an apartment, it's a blast for them.
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