Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violence
(Mandarin with English subtitles)
Directed by: Stephen Chow
Written by: Stephen Chow, Kelvin Lee, Ho Miu-kei, Lu Zhengyu, Fung Chih-chiang, Ivy Kong, Chan Hing-ka & Tsang Kan-cheung
Starring: Deng Chao, Lin Yun, Show Luo & Zhang Yuqi
Despite being one of the highest grossing Chinese films in cinematic history (shattering records in its homeland), THE MERMAID is a film that’s being woefully mishandled by Sony. I wasn’t even aware of this movie’s existence until a friend informed me about it. THE MERMAID is currently over three weeks into its American release, yet still lacks both a proper poster from Sony and an official US trailer. Stephen Chow (known for KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER) directs this fantasy-romantic comedy as an upbeat, light-hearted romp that essentially resembles a live-action cartoon. Loaded with effects, creativity, and a manic atmosphere, THE MERMAID is a blast.
After irresponsible businessman Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) places deadly sonar devices into his recently purchased ocean property, a secret colony of merpeople is nearly wiped to extinction. In order to seek revenge and save the last of their species, the merpeople assign the beautiful Shan (Lin Yun) the task of seducing and then killing Liu. This haphazard assassination attempt results in Liu and Shan falling head-over-heels for each other, much to the dismay of Shan’s fellow merpeople and Liu’s borderline psychotic business partner (Zhang Yuqi).
THE MERMAID is not a film that takes itself seriously…at all. Constant light-hearted, ludicrous humor frequently shine through in purposely exaggerated scenes. Some jokes are downright childish, but effective nonetheless. One could easily describe the movie as a living cartoon. With the constant barrage of CGI, it seems downright appropriate to make that comparison. Most of these effects are solid, but there are a couple of scenes where the CGI and actors don’t exactly meld well. These cheesy bits are few and mainly reserved for the last 15 minutes. My favorite effect in this film is easily the half-man/half-octopus, who looks downright hilarious as he attempts to function on dry land. This character also delivers the biggest laughs in the entire film as his tentacles endure all kinds of abuse.
As far as the two leads are concerned, they have believable chemistry. Deng Chao’s Liu is a rich playboy type who’s been seen in plenty of other films, but his bratty behavior and exaggerated body language make him a joy to behold. Lin Yun is great as the childlike Shan. She does give off a Chinese version of Disney’s Ariel vibe in exploring the human world, but her naivety and clumsiness are integral to her character. Zhang Yuqi’s villainess could have used a bit more development as she’s the most one-note and predictable character in the story, but she has her good scenes too.
THE MERMAID’s plot is pretty straightforward and offers plenty of opportunities for silliness, light-hearted romance, and over-the-top gags to occur. I had a big grin plastered across my face for a majority of the running time and was frequently bursting out in laughter. There are fantastic moments of physical comedy and certain gags milk themselves for all they’re worth. A scene between Liu and two police officers is worth the price of admission alone, not to mention the aforementioned hysterical octopus guy. While a majority of this movie is hilarious, not every joke hits its mark and a few of them overstay their welcome. The film seems to be constantly reveling in its sheer absurdity, though never to an annoying obnoxious degree.
MERMAID’s momentum slows down in a finale that almost seems to forget the insane comedic streak up to that point in favor of a semi-serious showdown and a very heavy-handed preachy environmentalist message. The overall eco-friendly tone of the story is pretty obvious throughout the rest of the film, but begins to bludgeon the viewer over the head during the final 15 minutes. However, these are small complaints in the grand scheme of things, because THE MERMAID is undeniable fun. The performers know exactly what kind of movie this is and all seem to be having a great time in their roles. Most of the effects are solid. The humor is goofy and constantly had the entire audience laughing. Though I half expected the song “Save the Earth” (from GODZILLA VS THE SMOG MONSTER) to start playing in the final minutes, I highly recommend THE MERMAID as pure light-hearted entertainment.