One of the things that I always love about Stephen Chow’s movies is that he never forgets that he is making a movie. What I mean by that is that rather than trying to fit into some kind of “realistic” mode which seems to be all the rage now, Chow is willing to recognize and accept his films for the fantasies that they are, and to do whatever seems appropriate to tell the story that he wants to. This has been true throughout his career, and is just as evident in his newest release, The Mermaid.
The Mermaid is actually many films (and styles of film) brought together in a way that on paper might seem as though they would irredeemably clash, but in the course of the movie, they never actually do. It is, at heart, a fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid – along with a splash of Romeo and Juliet style rom-com thrown in for good measure. It is also an industrial espionage movie. It’s a bit of a Jackie-Chan style kung fu movie. And it’s an ecological horror/message film.
Mostly, though, it’s simply an at times laugh-out-loud comedy.
And a Stephen Chow film.
What all of this means, and what any potential viewer needs to know going in is that you’re going to see a style of mostly-fantasy film that – if you’re unfamiliar with Chow’s previous work – especially, say, Kung Fu Hustle (though The Mermaid is not as egregiously indulgent as that one) – that requires the viewer to buy into over the top effects, including both obvious wire work and at times extremely obvious and purposefully so CGI effects. If you’re not willing to do that, then you’re likely going to come away hating this movie.
If, on the other hand you’re willing to make that buy-in and simply let Chow take you where he wants to however he feels is necessary to get the job done, then you’re in for a true treat.
The actual basics of the story line are pretty simple: a wealthy playboy-type businessman has set up a series of extreme sonar like devices around an island that he has managed to acquire in order to drive off the dolphins in the surrounding waters so that he can get a development permit without having to worry about environmentalists protesting his development of the area.
Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him – or to anyone else – the area is also the home to a clan of mermaids (and, for some reason an especially war hungry half-human octopus), and the sonar are having a devastating effect on them, killing them slowly, much as if the water had been poisoned.
In order to put an end to this, the mermaids have come up with a plan – they will send one of their own to the surface to seduce the businessman Mata Hari style and then lure them back to their home where they will subsequently kill him.
It’s a good plan, and one that seems to be working, until the mermaid seductress and the businessman actually fall immediately in love with each other and it seems that she may not be able to carry out her part of the assassination plot after all.
Also, just for good measure, you need to throw in a group of renegade scientists who seem to be hell-bent on both capturing and killing off the mermaids, some inept policemen who are at first unable to even understand the concept of a mermaid and then find the businessman’s story of having been kidnapped by them truly laughable, and one truly incredible mer-fu wielding Big-Mama mermaid.
So what you really have here is what in America will probably be a little seen quirky import comedy that will quickly for the most part make the rounds of the usual art-house type cinemas and than disappear largely unknown.
In China however…
In China The Mermaid was released on February 8, 2016. Upon release, it broke numerous box office records such as the biggest opening day and the biggest single day gross through its seventh day of release and had the biggest opening week of all time. On February 19 it became the country’s highest-grossing film.
Here are some numbers for you courtesy of Wikipedia:
The Mermaid recorded an opening day record of US$40.9 million, which is the biggest opening day for a Chinese film and the second biggest of all time there only behind the opening day of Furious 7. US$1 million came from midnight screenings. It set a new record for the fastest film to earn CN¥1 billion (US$152.4 million), doing so in just 4 days of release, and also recorded the largest 5-days gross (US$187.3 million). Through its seven day opening week, it grossed a total of $275.1 million, breaking records for the biggest seven day gross and the biggest-opening week of all time in China (breaking Furious 7) and the third biggest of all time, behind Hollywood films Star Wars: The Force Awakens (US$390.8 million) and Jurassic orld (US$296.2 million). It grossed US$120.4 million alone for the three-day opening weekend (Friday to Sunday), which is the biggest of all time in China and the second biggest three-day gross behind Furious 7‘s Saturday to Monday gross. This along with From Vegas to Macau III (US$119 million) and The Monkey King 2 (US$116 million) helped Chinese box office break the Guinness World Record for the biggest box office week with $548 million from February 8 – 14, 2016. The previous record was set during the week of December 26, 2015 – January 1, 2016 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens led the box office with US$261 million and the box office that week totaled US$529.6 million. And the previous biggest Chinese box office week was set in July 2015 when Monster Hunt, Pancake Man, and Monkey King: Hero is Back, combined for a then total US$253 million during their first week. On February 19 – 12 days after release – the film became the highest-grossing film in China with CN¥2.45 billion, overtaking the previous record holder, Monster Hunt.
Yeah, you could say it’s big. And in my opinion, it deserves to be much bigger than it will surely turn out to be in the US, too.
Oh, and a couple of other quick notes: with a running time of only 94 minutes. The Mermaid also breaks with much modern blockbuster fare in that it does an excellent job of getting in, telling its story, and getting out. There is no bloat about this movie.
Also, I do feel that I should warn you that there are a couple of quite violent scenes that – while definitely in keeping with both the tone and the message of what is going on in the film at the time may disturb some more sensitive viewers and really may keep this from being, in some viewers’ eyes, truly family friendly – especially for the youngest of viewers.
And last, but definitely not least, I want to take a moment to praise the work of newcomer actress Lin Yun who plays Shan, the somewhat reluctant mermaid seductress/assassin. Yun was selected by Chow and his casting team from over 120,000 participants due to her demure personality in a talent contest held in Shenzhen, China, and throughout what was reportedly a grueling shoot which saw her repeatedly bruised and injured, she never loses the sense of charm and innocence that is necessary to pull off the role.
So, if you’re in the mood for a fantasy film that truly embraces the fantastical, yet is also much more than that, I highly recommend going to see The Mermaid if you happen to see it pop up anywhere near you. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Here’s a trailer: