Directed by: Stephen Chow
Premise: A Chinese film. A wealthy businessman purchases a secluded piece of costal real estate with the intention of developing it. Unknown to him, the bay is populated with mermaids. One of the creatures makes contact with the intention of killing him but they fall in love instead.
What Works: The Mermaid was directed by Stephen Chow who had previously helmed Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Chow makes energetic movies that mix together different genres and filmmaking styles. The Mermaid combines the romance of The Little Mermaid with the conflict and adventure of Avatar while also including the absurd physical comedy that Chow does so well. The film is primarily the story of a wealthy businessman, played by Chao Deng, who has risen from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest people in the world. He’s surrounded by sycophants who are more interested in his money than they are in him which sets up Deng’s character to be taken with a woman of low station who wants nothing of his fortune. For all the goofiness of this movie and its frequently bizarre style, there is something familiar and human at the center of it which creates substance at the heart of the story. The mermaid, played by Jelly Lin, is assigned to kill this entrepreneur in order to save her people from ecological disaster, but she falls in love with the man she is supposed to assassinate. It’s a familiar concept but Lin’s performance elevates the story above its conceit. She has an otherworldly quality befitting a mermaid but she also has an innocence that is corrupted by this conflict. The combination of the unique characters and a variety of humor results in a movie that is really creative. It’s that novel quality that really defines this film. It is especially apparent when comparing The Mermaid to so many of Hollywood’s tent pole films which are increasingly homogenous in their style. The Mermaid is bizarre in a way that is refreshing and demonstrates the possibilities of fantasy entertainment. And in the midst of the romance, the comedy, and the action, this film also manages to work in a general statement about environmentalism and especially the treatment of marine mammals. The film makes a fairly obvious parallel between the threat to the mermaids and the ongoing dolphin hunts in the eastern regions of the world but it does so without being preachy or obnoxious.
What Doesn’t: The Mermaid begins with a strange opening scene that doesn’t really relate to the rest of the story. There is a payoff toward the end but it doesn’t justify the expenditure of screen time and the prologue has a disorienting impact on the viewer; we’re set up to believe the story is about a set of characters who are just part of a jokey preamble. The story of The Mermaid hedges upon cliché. This is a familiar fairytale romance in which a character misrepresents herself to the person she falls in love with, setting up the couple for a falling out and reconciliation. The story is quite predictable although the movie’s strange mishmash of tones tends to disguise that fact. But the wackiness of The Mermaid also hurts the film a bit in the ending. This film has been rated R by the MPAA but The Mermaid does not contain any sexuality or coarse language befitting the rating. It seems that the R classification was meted out based on the violence of the climax which comes across excessively brutal compared to the lightness of the rest of the picture. The quality of the special effects in The Mermaid varies. A lot of the effects are quite good, especially the tentacles of the half-man-half-octopus leader of the mermaids. However, other effects aren’t as convincing and a handful of shots are terrible, looking a decade behind the standard set by contemporary Hollywood digital effects.
DVD extras: Featurette and a music video.
Bottom Line: The Mermaid is a strange picture and it requires an audience to let go of rigid ideas about genre and tone. But it is a wacky and creative venture that is a lot of fun and combines familiar storytelling tropes with some unique visuals.
Episode: #609 (August 28, 2016)