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1 review, 1 rating

Mermaid, The (2016)
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by Jay Seaver

"Makes audiences laugh swimmingly."
4 stars

About ten years ago, Stephen Chow Sing-chi was briefly kind of popular in the States when the writer/director/star's quick one-two punch of "Shaolin Soccer" and "Kung Fu Hustle", followed by "CJ7", had pretty good theatrical runs for foreign films; since then he passed on making an English-language debut and moved entirely behind the camera. It's made him invisible here, but his work is still tremendously popular in China and Hong Kong, with his new one "The Mermaid" breaking box-office records and, thankfully, proving to be one of the funniest things playing theaters anywhere on the planet right now.

It starts out with a montage of ways humanity is harming the environment, moving to an auction for Green Gulf, won by billionaire Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), who allies himself with competitor Li Ruolan (Kitty Zhang Yuqi) to reclaim and develop the protected dolphin sanctuary. The celebratory party is crashed by pretty goofball Shan ("Jelly" Lin Yun), dressed as a mermaid the way most of the girls there are, who manages to give Liu her number before being escorted out and sent home. The surprise is that she actually is a mermaid, and her people, led by Octopus (Luo Show), intend the kind-hearted Shan to be a honey trap so that they can kill Liu.

The movie sounds like "Splash, but with more murder", and that's actually a good sign; it shows that, despite following many other Hong Kong filmmakers north to make Mandarin-language movies in China proper, he's maintained the same sort of broad, bawdy sense of humor that made his other movies live-action cartoons. The film is full of off-color jokes that jump further past innuendo than many of the other Chinese movies which have reached America recently, and the slapstick is the kind of thing that would be kind of horrible if it were the least bit believable. It's a deeply silly film despite its earnest environmental message.

Managing that is nice work on Chow's part, and it shows what a seasoned vet he is at taking the goofy seriously. This movie clocks in at a tight 100 minutes, which is a minor miracle considering how seemingly many other Chinese comedies manage to make the viewer regret the large soda without enough gags to compensate. He and the effects companies set up elaborate visual gags that are both clear and whimsical, and which incidentally make fine use of 3D should one decide to see it in that format. He knows just how many seconds any sort of gag is good for and doesn't mind exaggerating everything from Ruolan's titillating wardrobe to Shan's weird gait, giving him a chance to soft-pedal some of the more dramatic moments and still have them come across as sincere.

And though Chow doesn't appear on-screen himself, he has cast some people quite able to handle his sort of humor. Deng Chao (recently on-screen in Devil and Angel) is no stranger to this sort of thing, able to change direction on a dime and milk laughs out of a scene whether he's playing the sane or ridiculous part of it, playing up Liu's insecurity over his low-class origins without having it come off as a plea for sympathy. He also rocks a very stupid mustache and makes it work. Luo Show and Kitty Zhang both manage to make their characters legitimately dangerous at moments despite spending most of their time being fairly ridiculous. Chow perhaps scores highest with the discovery of "Jelly" Lin Yun, who is given far more to do than most 18-year-old models making their film debut, walking like she really is standing on her tail in a most uncomfortable manner but projecting real joy in exploring the surface world despite her occasionally grim business. She smiles winningly enough through physical comedy that maybe benefiting from a little more seasoning in the more dramatic scenes doesn't much matter.

It's not a perfect film, although not always for the obvious reasons: Some may wonder if Chow should have gone with fewer visual effects scenes that each had a bit more in the way of resources thrown at them, although in some ways the imperfection makes the live-action cartoon nature of the movie work a bit better. The movie does suffer from how effects-heavy movies like this seem to need a big action finale, because things shift pretty drastically from lighthearted cartoon violence to more realistic nastiness. As much as it's good for Liu and Shan to have some real adversity to overcome at the climax, the movie stops being fun for a bit at that point.

It picks back up, though, and on the whole winds up very funny, a welcome reminder that Stephen Chow is one of the best in the world at this sort of thing. It's a shame that this will probably pass unnoticed by much of America, despite being one of the year's biggest hits world-wide.

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originally posted: 02/21/16 17:33:19
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User Comments

2/22/16 FireWithFire The Mermaid is rubbish, thats why it will go unnoticed in America. 1 stars
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  DVD: 05-Jul-2016

  19-Feb-2016 (15)

  DVD: 05-Jul-2016

Directed by
  Stephen Chow

Written by
  Stephen Chow

  Chao Deng
  Jelly Lin
  Luo Show
  Kitty Zhang

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