Stephen Chow is one of a handful of directors from Hong Kong whose films I will watch without fail. The guy has a great handle on genuine slapstick humor and is one of the few who is able to keep it funny without making it consistently raunchy. His latest directorial endeavor is the critically acclaimed The Mermaid, a twisted modern take on the classics tale of The Little Mermaid.
The film focuses on Liu (Deng Chao), an incredibly wealthy playboy who is using sonar to kill off/drive away dolphins from the Green Gulf coastal zone in order to develop the real estate. Unbeknownst to him and everyone else, the sonar is also killing off mermaids who secretly dwell in a sunken ship on the coast. Shanshan (Jelly Lin), one of the mermaids who lives there, has been chosen to honey pot Liu and assassinate him to stop his plans of developing the area. Instead, the more time she spends with him (and vice versa), the more she falls for him making the decision to kill him impossible.
I’m torn over Chow’s The Mermaid. On the one hand, if I was Chinese and a little younger I think I would absolutely love it. I want to say it’s a family movie but there are instances where we see footage of dolphins being slaughtered in the famous cove and I don’t think that’s something I’d want to show a child, but everything else about the movie screams a family adventure, albeit a quirky one with a serious agenda.
I do understand that Chow can be both in your face and subversive at the same time. He finds ways to be subtle and so over-the-top that sometimes the clever subtlety gets lost behind the crazy shenanigans unfolding before your eyes. I think that happened to me a lot while watching The Mermaid. For instance, this movie makes it clear that we need to do a better job of protecting the environment, especially the ocean, but it doesn’t outright say who is destroying it which, chances are, it’s the mainland screwing with the ecosystem surrounding Chow’s native Hong Kong.
Outside of the environmental agenda, the movie is fairly lighthearted and focuses on a budding romance which originated from a hilarious assassination attempt. Unlike in The Little Mermaid, Shanshan doesn’t have legs, instead she has a fin that’s been cut slightly to allow her to walk so rather than look graceful she hobbles around like a penguin as she tries to seduce Liu. A giant mermaid sling shot to transport the mermaids, an Octopus ringleader and over-the-top villainous business people are just some of the ridiculous, and occasionally fun, oddities that you can also expect to find within this film.
Like with most Chinese films, the effects are pretty poor in comparison to what we are used to here in The States. The animation on the mermaid tail fins and basically anything else that’s animated is just brutal. Even some of the green screen effects feel like they were learned from a book called “how to direct green screen acting” from the 1980s
Overall, I wasn’t as enthralled with The Mermaid as much as others, but I did think that this fantasy romance was fun and certainly worth a watch for anyone that’s a fan of Chow’s films or looking for a decent, visually unorthodox romantic adventure. It has plenty of issues as an American adult, but for the target demographic it’s a winner, I mean, there’s a reason why it’s the highest-grossing Chinese movie of all time.
The Mermaid screens July 2nd at the Walter Reade Theater