Hong Kong’s Stephen Chow is probably best known by American audiences as the director and star of Shaolin Soccer and the international blockbuster Kung Fu Hustle. Chow has actually starred in more than 50 films, but it wasn’t until 2001’s Shaolin Soccer that he gained international acclaim.

With Kung Fu Hustle, Chow struck gold. The film went on to become the second highest grossing film in Hong Kong history after Titanic and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Those films were built around Chow’s signature comedic style, which is heavily influenced by American slapstick and classic Warner Bros. cartoons, creating a unique and whimsical world where the rules of physics are stretched to fantastic proportions. It seemed like only a matter of time before Chow would attempt to direct a children’s film. With his latest comedic outing, CJ7, Chow finally makes the leap into kids’ movies.

CJ7 tells the story of a down on his luck construction worker and single parent (played by Chow) who finds a strange ball in the junkyard that he gives to his young son Dicky (actually played by a girl, Xu Jiao). The toy turns out to be from space and transforms into the title character, a computer generated alien toy dog.

The film is a whimsical fantasy told from a child’s perspective and contains plenty of the hyper-stylized fight sequences that made his previous works so loved. But CJ7 is a very different story from the action oriented Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. So how did Chow prepare himself for the experience of making a children’s movie?

“I did once serve as the host of a children’s television series,” says Chow. “And also the influence of Spielberg’s E.T.

While the special effects are an important part of the film, it’s the gender-bending performance of 10-year old Xu Jiao as Dicky that grounds the film. Nearly 10,000 kids were seen before she was chosen.

The fact that Xu is a girl does not distract from the film. She fully embodies the role, never once allowing the audience to suspect otherwise.

Chow’s upcoming projects seem to be generating just as much buzz as his current film. He’s involved in the production of the much-anticipated Dragon Ball Z movie coming out this summer, and he’s also developing a sequel to Kung Fu Hustle.

CJ7 releases in select theaters March 7.