[FILM REVIEW] Stephen Chow’s “Mermaid” 

What’s in it for the movie that broke all of China’s box office records?

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THE BASICS:

  • Director: Stephen Chow
  • Length: 94 minutes (1 hr 34 min.)
  • Language: Mandarin Chinese
  • Genre: Science fiction/fantasy, Romantic comedy
  • Rating: R (in American standards, it’s PG-13)

THE CAST OF CHARACTERS:

  • Deng Chao as Liu Xuan 刘轩
  • Jelly Lin as Shan 姗, the Mermaid
  • Show Luo as Octopus 八哥
  • Kitty Zhang as Ruo Lan 若兰·
  • A bunch of cameo appearances, including Kris Wu and Wen Zhang

Watch the (English-subbed!) trailer here (hint: it’s nothing like the actual film itself).

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It’s Jelly Lin’s debut movie — a Stephen Chow movie, at that — and she gets to act alongside Deng Chao AND Show Luo?! #fml

THE PLOT:

Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), a tycoon billionaire, purchases marine habitat reserve “The Green Gulf” and teams up with the ambitious Ruo Lan (Kitty Zhang) to re-claim the oceans and earn all the bling. Unbeknownst to any of the humans involved, the sonars Liu Xuan had ordered sent down to drive all the marine life away have resulted in many mermaid casualties.

That’s right — in this world merpeople, a subspecies of hominids, exist. Led by half-mollusk “Octopus” (Show Luo), the merpeople plot to murder Liu Xuan. Shan (Jelly Lin), a beauty especially trained to stuff the ends of her tail into large yellow boots, walk waddle on land, and dance better than McDonalds, goes to seduce and assassinate him. Except, of course, Shan and Liu Xuan end up falling in love.

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Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) and Shan (Jelly Lin).

It’s clear that China’s entertainment industry, is, well, in the midst of development. Records are constantly shattered — daily — and one big part of that is China’s movies.

Stephen Chow, however, is different. He takes advantage of the fact and concocts probably one of the most brilliant Chinese movies — even with all the obvious CGI and ridiculous plot holes. In fact, those cinematic “faults” are rather used as an advantage. And that has made all the difference.

What makes the film especially great (for me, at least) is its unwavering representation of all the gritty bits of life in China. From the ridiculously fake knock-offs Chinese people always seem to come up with to the gaudy tastes of the entire generation of nouveau riche Chinese and even the traffic jam, most of what Chow depicts, despite his exaggerations, are at least somewhat true.

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It’s a preserved mermaid! What salted fish?

The character Liu Xuan, representing the nouveau riche, basically grew up in a family of beggars (I suppose during the Cultural Revolution) on the streets; as he grew up, he swore to himself that he was going to make all the money in the world. And that’s what happened — and he initially has no regard for any consequences that might have.

(SIDE NOTE: I suppose as a nouveau riche, you just have this phenomenal taste in music, such as “The Mermaid” OST, written and composed by Stephen Chow and sung by Deng Chao here. )

In contrast, Ruo Lan, the heiress of a large land reclamation firm, was born in luxury, and has no understanding of the struggling lower and middle classes. She even derides Liu Xuan as “a beggar dressed in prince’s clothing” because he was enjoying $200 chicken.

During a pool party, Ruo Lan tosses a luxury watch into Liu Xuan’s pool, casually mentioning that it’s worth like only $8 million. Immediately all the girls once surrounding Liu Xuan eagerly jump into the pool to find that watch.

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Drinking million-dollar wine and tossing away 8 million-dollar luxury watches? Please.

“Do you understand their true motive now?” Ruo Lan asks Liu Xuan.

“Yes,” he nonchalantly replies. “They’re young people working hard to earn money. I respect them.”

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Naturally one of the biggest carriers of “The Mermaid”‘s plot revolves around Liu Xuan and Shan’s romance — though, of course, not in that cliche way. Since it was obvious that Deng Chao and Jelly Lin were never going to be compatible (in that way) from the start, it’s instead purposely used to inject humor into the film.

I mean, how romantic is throwing up together?

Initially, Liu Xuan is rather turned off by the mermaid’s far too exuberant and, erm, innocent attempts to “seduce” him. Instead, he calls Shan — who he presumes is a prostitute — over in order to make Ruo Lan jealous.

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Interestingly enough, it’s the rich businessman that always finds love in the sweet and innocent girl. (It’s always the rich businessman.) He literally has the time of his life munching on roasted chicken in a funfair.

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What the romance really brings out, however, is the mastermind behind it all — Octopus (Show Luo). In an attempt to take matters into his own hands, Octopus is forced to pose as a sushi chef for Liu Xuan, and roasts and grinds his own tentacles (poor Xiao Zhu :/)!!!

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In an interesting turn of events, 小猪 (“Little Pig”) is actually half-octopus.

Overall, “The Mermaid” is just fantastical — it has that fairy-tale feel, you basically guffaw at at least every other scene — and is totally worth the hype. Even if you’re not a Chinese speaker, I would totally recommend this for you.


Which, unfortunately, leads to the grim and illogical latter part of the movie. #jetpackexmachina

While the first part of the movie is, again, as I have repeatedly expressed, absolutely amazing, when it transitioned into serious business and consequences it fell a bit flat.

Naturally, this sort of environmental movie is hugely relevant in the modern world — China especially. And it’s best not to be overly picky over the film’s plot; this is Stephen Chow, after all. However, the climax was what kind of irked me:

Literally right after the scientists were complaining that the only mermaids they had come across were dead/fossilized, and that they wanted to make the mermaid DNA genome, they all joined Ruo Lan & Co. to kill all the mermaids. Because the blood that splatters everywhere will totally get a lot of mermaid DNA. I realize that Ruo Lan had her own personal agenda, but either Liu Xuan was just “rich af” or she was “desperate af”.

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Ruo Lan is one crazy lady.

Had this been in another part of the film, I would have been totally okay with it, but mermaid genocide was unfortunately the main driving factor of the whole movie. :/

OVERALL THOUGHTS

“The Mermaid”, despite its convoluted climax, is a fantastical film — one of Stephen Chow’s best, in fact. The ridicule and hilarity of the movie, combined with its powerful environmental message, is what defines the Chinese hit film.

Recommended? OMG totally yes.

RATING: 8.6/10

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— moon148

 

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