Dicky is the major problem with this film. He's supposed to be the window to a magical experience, but he becomes so damned unsympathetic that the film can actually go as far as killing his father without you feeling any particular pity for him.
CJ7 is an alien who is found by a poor man in a rubbish tip. He mistakes it for a toy, and gives it to his son. The film starts with all the right moves - father and son trying to get by, father slaving on worksites for minimum wage to put his son through a private school and offer him more chances in life... we're positioned from the get go to root for these underdogs. Dicky is completely sympathetic at first. And then...
... and then, the film pulls a dream sequence on us where the kid is horrible to everyone using a wide range of devices given to him by CJ7. We of course don't know it's a dream sequence until later. Upon waking up the kid, having been empowered, assumes he can make it all a reality. He then makes the very cute alien CJ7 fight a rabid dog, beats it when it produces no magical items, attempts to drown him in a toilet, and finally throws him in a garbage bin. He yells, rants, raves, and is generally an incredibly unlikeable prick. The film tries to pull a reverse maneuver and have him realise the error of his ways, but it's a lackluster effort and by that time you've lost all connection with him.
This is a Stephen Chow film, and I'm a big fan of his. Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle are hands down some of the funniest, most liberating and enjoyable cinema experiences I've had in the last few years. I really wanted this film to work - Stephen Chow bringing some of that joy and fun to a children's film should have been dynamite. Instead, he made a horrible misstep with his main character that interfered with the enjoyment of the entire film.
Which is all the more a shame when you consider his performance as Dicky's poor father Ti. I loved Chow's performance in this movie, he was the right mixture of determined and helpless - the kind of character that sucks you in as a viewer and has you desperately hoping for things to work out in their favour. CJ7 as a character is great as well, despite its animation being somewhat primitive by today's standards.
A lot of people will maintain the reason I've failed to engage with this film is an inability to connect with the different cultural viewpoint - however I would disagree. The tonal shifts and attempts to renege the mistakes at the film's core are symptomatic of shoddy filmmaking, not different cultural viewpoints. I watch a fair bit of foreign cinema, and I don't think I'm ignorant of the different perspectives between eastern and western film.
In the end, CJ7 just failed for me - it had an ambiguous ending, a horrible central character, inconsistencies of tone, and just generally sloppy filmmaking. I hope Stephen Chow goes back to fantastical kung-fu misadventures for his next film, because no discerning child will buy into what he's done here. Especially if their parents are members of PETA.