Producer/writer/director Stephen Chow is a talent who certainly loves his Warner Bros. cartoons. Although his style rarely ever evolves beyond the Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner shtick, just how he uses those visual tropes never gets tiring. In his latest movie he co-wrote by committee and directed, The Mermaid is a hilarious film partially influenced by Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale The Little Mermaid.
This product is heavy-handed with its set of images in the opening act showing how industry can destroy the environment and during the ala The Cove. When those frames fully explores the plight of the dolphin and other endangered marine life, I wanted to shout, “Yo JOE!” That’s because Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi, 若兰) is as cold and ruthless as The Baroness from G.I. Joe. She’s been manipulating Liu Xuan (Deng Chao, 刘轩). In his back story, he went from rags to riches (another common trait in Chow’s movies) because of her and he did not realize a part of him died along the way.
As a calculating land claims developer, he’s bought a wildlife reserve at the Green Gulf as part of a real estate project but, little does he know, just what he’s doing “for conservation” is having the opposite effect. An entire race of merfolk live in the area and they have to take shelter because the sonar technology to rid oceanic life is having detrimental effects.
The elders decide to send Shan (Lin “Jelly” Yun, 珊) to lure Xuan into a trap so he can be killed. With him gone, life should get back to normal. Octopus (Show Luo, 罗志祥) leads the rag-tag team of resistance fighters (he can pass as a Chinese version of Duke any day) and although they serve a greater good, the way this team behaves is more like comic relief. Luo provides the best laugh out loud moments. As a half man half octopus, he winds up in crazier circumstances because who doesn’t love sashimi?
Fortunately he survives his ordeal, and if he was to be chased by sharks, he’d be up s**t creek.
For Xuan, he finds dodging his business partner, Ruolan, tough. She puts up with his playboy ways, but the film very clearly shows who has whom on a leash. While both are the antagonists in this movie, the question of who is worse is looked at (this includes some social commentary in what China’s rich elite might be like) and if one can find redemption, there is hope for the rest. This theme is at the core of why Chow’s films are enduring. If only this filmmaker can regain the international mainstream acclaim he once had a decade ago, then he might finally make Kung Fu Hustle 2.
These days, he’s making films for the Mainland Chinese market. Movies like CJ7 and Jump does not have the same universal appeal as Shaolin Soccer or the before mentioned movie. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons at least has he power of the Monkey King. This country is certainly becoming a major player for international cinema. Recently, the filmmakers there can produce charming family friendly delights like McDull or get paranormal in Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe.
Although this film will not win any effects awards (the CGI is on par with a SyFy movie of the week than WETA level), it might help launch Yun’s career. Her sweet on-screen demure is a highlight, and she easily charmed Xuan without batting an eyelash. Part of her talent lies in the fact she exudes a childlike innocence when both she and him go playing in a carnival. She’s a delight to watch on-screen. To imitate how a fish-finned person can walk, her tail is split slightly enough so she can slip into shoes and daintily walk. Although most films have a casting director deciding on who could star, this product broke from tradition by having an open talent contest and through public voting, the list would then be narrowed down to a final 13. Chow got lucky in finding the ideal Ariel.
3½ Stars out of 5