I really need to watch more Stephen Chow movies—Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer—because if they’re anything like The Mermaid, then I’m in for a great time. Sure, it’s incredibly ridiculous, and features just a bit of singing, but it’s loads of fun. A whole lot of China’s population apparently agreed, as it became the highest grossing Chinese film ever.
The wonderfully crazy concept dreamt up by Chow and—count ‘em—seven co-writers involves a playboy tycoon (Deng Chao) acquiring a marine wildlife reserve he plans to develop. He keeps the sea life around it away via advanced sonar. This, it turns out, is harming a population of… wait for it… merpeople, who send one of their own (Lin Yun) to seduce Chao and kill him.
I initially was a little dubious I would like the film in any way, partly because the premise just sounded so out there, and partly because Chow starts it out with an odd group of people making their way through an intentionally second-rate mermaid-museum set-up in which the “artifacts” on display are so obviously fake, including a dude in a bathtub dressed up as a mermaid.
But after that, Chow starts bringing the zany, starting with a rich-person confab at Chao’s mansion, which features veteran Chinese director Tsui Hark in a cameo and includes a very hilarious bit with a whiny guest and his jet pack. It’s also where we meet the film’s villainess, played to marvelous James Bond-flick perfection by the very striking Zhang Yuqi.
And after that, well, Chow piles on the creativity and superb slapstick hilarity. The highlight humor-wise has to be watching Yun’s initial attempts to kill Chao turn into a comedy of errors, followed by Chao telling two incredulous cops about the mermaids, followed by watching the mermaids’ leader, an octopus-man, get caught in a ceiling fan. And that’s just the tip of the funny-berg here.
On the creative side, Chow has the merpeople make their home inside an abandoned tanker—an ingeniously conceived physical set with an amusement-park feel—and gets his CGI people to create some impressive effects, in particular when the wise-elder mermaid tells about how the merpeople came to be. Chow makes it feel like a wondrous bedtime story.
For those expecting a pure family-friendly flick, be warned that Chow does feature a bit of violence during the third act as soldiers storm the tanker. A little later, a character gets a couple of arrows through his shoulders, and Yun gets flung from the sea by an explosion. If the film were rated, it would probably be PG-13. My rating? On a scale of 1 to 10, a very solid 8. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 7/5/16