- RatedPG /GenreComedy, Fantasy, Science Fiction
This is the second movie in a row where funnyman Stephen Chow does not appear on screen, not even for a cameo. Instead, he stands behind the scenes taking the reins as writer, director and producer.
Make no mistake as the star of the film is still Stephen Chow himself, and you can feel his omnipresence throughout the movie, via the proxy of his ensemble cast and his trademark mou lei tou nonsensical comedy
The movie does not let up on gags from the get go. Opening the film as a prologue is a set up in a “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” kind of museum where a dubious museum director tries to trick a bunch of visitors into believing that every artifact in his museum is not a fake… until he introduces a mermaid in the most ridiculously madcap and grotesque getup. Warning: You will dig this style of low brow toilet humour only if you have been fan of Stephen Chow.
The opening is however also coupled with a brief opening montage that shows real documentary footage of whaling, overfishing and water pollution on a mass scale, which hints that this could be more than just a comedy, but a movie with an environmental message at its heart.
Property development mogul Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), is bent on reclaiming the sea around the Green Ocean Gulf into a money spinning enterprise. To chase away the dolphins, his conglomerate dispatches the usage of sonar with deadly force. Little does he know that he is destroying not just dolphins and marine life, but also posing a huge treat to mythical creatures that have been dwelling there for ages – mermaids!
One of the leaders of the mermaid clan, Octopus (Show Luo) dispatches young mermaid Shan (Jelly Lin) to seduce and kill Liu Xuan at all costs. However, things start to get really complicated when Shan ends up falling in love with Liu Xuan instead.
The film’s socio-environmental message is very relevant and relatable, especially with China’s obsessions with economic development at the expense of ecological costs. Despite its directness and bluntness, it is well integrated into the story, and did not come at the expense of diluting the entertaining comedy, which Stephen Chow and his team of writers have in spades.
A number memorable scenes provide some of the biggest laughs – such as when Shan made numerous botched attempts to assassinate Liu Xuan with various means and weapons from the sea.
Newcomer Jelly Lin is the latest in a long line of “Stephen’s Girls”. Chow has the knack of discovering an illustrious list of talented actresses that include Karen Mok, Cecilia Cheung, and Vicky Zhao. Lin is the latest muse to channel Chow’s range of rubber-faced physical comedy and deadpan delivery of killer lines. Jelly Lin is reportedly cast from auditions with over 10,000 hopefuls.
Also throwing up several laughs is Show Luo (his second outing in a Stephen Chow movie) as Octopus, who made good use of the gags involving the loss of his tentacles.
There’s also a cameo scene featuring the Wen Zhang and Li Shangzheng (who last acted in Chow’s ‘Journey to the West: Conquering Demons’) that promises uncontrollable laughter. It is advisable that you clear your bladder before entering the cinema hall for ‘The Mermaid’.
A TALE ABOUT LOVE
Loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’, the film mashes the original message of unrequited tale of love and sacrifice, with modern Chinese elements.
Jelly Lin’s Shan eventually has to choose between her loyalty to saving her mermaid tribe or saving her new found love Liu Xuan. However, this plot element was not explored in depth, as the antagonist Liu Xuan soon became the hero of the story when he turns over a new leaf.
Instead, the role of chief villain falls on another “Stephen’s Girls” -- Kitty Zhang Yuqi (previously the fair maiden in ‘CJ7’), who plays an unscrupulous developer, and has psycho-sexual love-hate relationship with Liu Xuan.
It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorned, as Zhang’s character turns out to be the cruellest in the last act as she becomes insanely jealous and vengeful of the little mermaid and our story’s hero.
Zhang’s sexy femme fatale voluptuous getup is a huge contrast to the petite Lin, who won over the closeted man-child Liu Xuan because of her silly childlike innocence and bubbly playfulness.
We have seen this theme played out before in previous Chow movies -- about the hero’s longing to return to a less complicated childhood paradise as we have seen in ‘Kung Fu Hustle’ and ‘CJ7’. This remains one of the central themes of love and innocence
This obsession with nostalgia gave Stephen Chow plenty of opportunities for making post-modern pop cultural references.
This time, he pays tribute to the genre of popular wuxia adaptations from 1980s Hong Kong television, specifically to Adam Cheng and the iconic song ‘You Are Still The Best In The World’, the theme from ‘Condor Shooting Heroes Part 3: The Duel at Huashan’.
This song was used twice in the movie, to herald the arrival of Liu Xuan and his fellow ‘elite’ competitors in business, whose congregation includes cameos from the likes of Tsui Hark (another huge fan of the Wuxia genre).
The second time the song was used is in a mou lei tou duet that came out of nowhere between Shan and Liu Xuan in an amusement park.
On a deeper level, this may arguably be seen as Chow’s attempt to re-introduce classic Hong Kong pop culture to a wider Mainland Chinese audience, or it may simply be his way of appealing to his fans and audiences with similar tastes for feel-good nostalgia.
Pity though that the duet sequence, which features no holds barred and over-the-top performances from Deng Chao and Jelly Lin, were dubbed over rather than featuring real singing.
SUB-PAR SPECIAL EFFECTS
Another distraction is the special effects.
Given the lavish RMB 400 million (about S$86 million) budget, the effects of the mermaid’s bodies, as well as depictions of the Green Gulf and underwater worlds, seem too cartoonish.
Chow has been pushing for the use of CGI effects in his movies since his breakthrough directorial hit ‘Shaolin Soccer’, and each subsequent movie had boasted better creative use of CGI effects.
Unfortunately, ‘The Mermaid’ seem to be a notch down in the visual effects department compared to the earlier films.
It seems like there is still a lot of catching up to do for China’s movie industry to reach the technical standards of Hollywood.Fortunately, all signs appear to point that Stephen Chow will likely have another huge hit under his belt, due to the delivery of his well-loved trademark comedy and the universal themes and messages that will resonate with the audiences both in China and abroad this Chinese New Year season.