Starring: Deng Chao, Lin Yun, Zhang Yuqi
Director: Stephen Chow
Running Time: 94 mins
The Mermaid is a Chinese film about a billionaire businessman who, after purchasing a major piece of land on the coast, becomes the target of the indigenous mermaid community, who send a young mermaid to assassinate him. However, after meeting him, the two soon fall in love, causing all sorts of complications in the assassination attempt.
China’s biggest blockbuster of 2016, and now the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time, you’d think that The Mermaid would be a masterpiece of epic proportions, but that’s not quite the case. Essentially a mash-up of comedy, modern fantasy, drama, romance and classic fairytales, The Mermaid is an extremely odd film, particularly because of its often surreal sense of humour. On the whole, it’s a fun watch after a while, but don’t let the mammoth box office takings fool you, because this is a very light-hearted and silly popcorn movie.
Following on from Monster Hunt‘s literally titanic success last year, it’s fair to say that Chinese mainstream movies have a particular sense of humour. For Western audiences, it can be a little hard to come round to at first, and that’s why this film just feels so odd to me.
Whilst I eventually grew to enjoy everything, the first forty-five minutes of this film do take some getting used to, and you have to tune your brain to not want any degree of realism or sensibleness whatsoever. The genre of comedy and fantasy is almost surreal at first, ranging from an octopus man being cooked alive and then vomiting ink everywhere, or the apparent revelation that mermaids can not only swim and walk on water, but fly!
It seems mad at first, but looking back over The Mermaid, I can’t say that I didn’t have fun watching it. Silly, ridiculous and preposterous, it’s not the sort of film that would do at all well in the West, but there’s a part of me that really embraced the completely over-the-top brand of comedy and fantasy, and the light-hearted and throwaway attitude to it all made it a very enjoyable watch in the end, even provoking a few big laughs in the middle and final acts.
So, the comedy’s different, but ultimately enjoyable. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for the story. Whilst the fairytale-like romance is nice and heartwarming, the film’s other plots don’t really work as well. For example, whilst the billionaire and the mermaid grow closer, he’s constantly having a tiff with his partner that feels consistently out of place and irrelevant to the development of the story.
The film’s relative lack of character depth and development doesn’t do much to help, and although that plot does end up having a significance in the end, it feels unwarranted and a little too convenient to be really convincing. That’s a theme that continues throughout the film, and the insanely convenient nature of jet packs, people surviving certain death etc. take a lot away from the possibility of this being even more than a throwaway comedy.
Finally, there’s the odd technical issue. Chinese mainstream films still don’t have the same refined quality of Hollywood, and as a result, the visual effects look a little off, there’s some awful editing issues, and regular problems with dialogue syncing, and although you can look past that as just another part of the film’s oddly charming nature, it doesn’t do it any favours.
Overall, although I didn’t think I would at first, I enjoyed watching The Mermaid. It’s distinct and particularly odd sense of humour coupled with an utterly insane fantasy story make it a memorable and entertaining watch, whilst its light-hearted vibes and heartwarming romance mean it’s totally harmless, and can put a smile on your face even if it’s not the highest-quality motion picture ever made, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.