The Mermaid is about a highly astute, but narcissistic and avaricious businessman Liu Xuan (Chao Deng), who strikes up an environmentally callous business partnership with the equally ruthless Ruolan (Yuqi Zhang) to profit off his newly acquired property, the Green Gulf. A pristine piece of land that, unbeknownst to him, is home to the merpeople. Liu Xuan has been using sonar technology to rid the nearby ocean of its sea life so he can develop there and make a small fortune, but he doesn't realize by doing so that he's entrapped the merpeople in an abandoned shipwreck due to his sonar devices littering the ocean around 'his' property. The sonar devices that have injured and killed countless merpeople since their implementation. Suffice to say that the merpeople have come to think of Liu Xuan as a devil that needs to be taken care of and so they dispatch the young and beautiful Shan (Yun Lin) to seduce and kill the tycoon.
Stephen Chow has crafted a well realized quasi-fantastical environment in The Mermaid. The production values and set designs are quite exquisite. The mise en scene throughout the movie is generally really vibrant, warm and fun as well, almost like a fairy tale. So aesthetically The Mermaid was a visually enjoyable experience, if nothing else. The comedy works well, especially well in a couple of places, but it's not as consistently funny as it is in most of Stephen Chow's other works. The Mermaid feels a bit like Stephen Chow is running out of gags, often relying on gags that he's already used in other movies. It's still a funny movie, don't get me wrong, but I'm beginning to get the sense that the creative well may be drying up for Stephen Chow, though I'd happily watch Kung Fu Hustle 2. What's the hold up there Chow? Seriously, the whole world wants that movie.
All the actors played their parts well, and Yun Lin was particularly mesmerizing and had good comedic timing as the naive mermaid who has spent a lot of time acquainting herself with the surface dwellers. That's really all I feel like I can compliment The Mermaid on and I'm a fan of Stephen Chow. Liu Xuan's and Shan's romance was too forced, and a little awkward. I know they discussed how quickly their relationship progressed, that Liu Xuan wastes no time, but marriage in two days? I didn't buy it. The characters are cardboard thin, and thinking on it, I'd rather call them caricatures. Shan and Liu Xuan are the only two who get any shred of development, and even that is minimal. The dialogue is also about as blunt as a sledgehammer, a little tact would have gone a long way.
Chinese movies tend to be a step behind in the cgi department, but even I was stunned at how bad the cgi was in The Mermaid. To be fair, it wasn't always outright bad, but it was easily noticeable and it often took me out of the movie. The Mermaid was at its best when there was, no, or very little cgi in use, The action was uninspired, especially considering there's mermaids, an octopus man, and a lot of soldiers with guns, but it was surprisingly boring. The wire-work was the worst I've seen in quite a while too. I had a hard time believing that Stephen Chow was behind this when it came to the action and wire-work. I expect better.
It's clear from its opening frame that The Mermaid is going to be a socially and environmentally motivated movie, which is fine, but its message was delivered so simplistically and almost condescendingly that it comes across as being too silly and sanctimonious to be taken seriously. I wonder if there was a little finger pointing going on too, with the scientist who developed the lethal sonar devices being Japanese, and we all know how Japan is with their whale hunting, which was obviously paralleled in the end, to some degree.
Character motivations were muddled, inconsistent and thin. We often talk about the old one-dimensional mustache twirling villains, and this movie had more than one. Despite its environmental backdrop, that was there merely to facilitate this unorthodox romance between Shan and Liu Xuan as she taught him that money isn't everything, and he loved her for it, too quickly if you ask me. All in all there was some pleasant and charming comedy throughout and some impressive visuals (when it wasn't cgi), but it lacked a coherent story, and more importantly, a heart behind the story. Not Stephen Chow's best effort, but it's still enjoyable if you're willing to overlook a fairly cliche and melodramatic narrative.
Written by - The Sentry - 10/07/2016