- Actors: Yun Lin, Chao Deng, Kris Wu Yifan, Yuqi Zhang, Shangzheng Li
- Director: Stephen Chow
- Format: Subtitled
- Language: Mandarin Chinese
- Subtitles: French, Polish, Mandarin Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, English, Spanish
- Dubbed: Thai, English
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Rated: R
- Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
- Release Date: July 5, 2016
- Digital Copy Expiration Date: December 31, 2019
- Run Time: 94 minutes
Stephen Chow’s latest, The Mermaid, is a strange film for many reasons. It’s a fairy tale with an environmental message, a plot that sounds like a Disney movie but is paired with sexual innuendo and scenes of graphic violence, and was somehow the highest grossing film in the history of Chinese cinema. Although undeniably entertaining in a unique way, this level of success is difficult to fathom.
The uniqueness of The Mermaid doesn’t necessarily come from the individual elements, which have all been used before, often in Chow’s previous films. What is strange about these fairly predictable working parts is the way that they are placed together. The graphic comic violence was used before in Kung Fu Hustle, only now it is paired with the kind of children’s film narrative the filmmaker utilized in his lesser known CJ7. Pairing sophomoric humor with adult themes and a silly storyline makes it difficult to understand who the intended audience is, despite its widespread success in China. The R-rating it received for the U.S. market and this country’s unwillingness to read subtitles makes it a much harder sell for international markets.
With a visual style of The Little Mermaid by way of Baz Luhrmann, The Mermaid is about the title sea creature who becomes a trained assassin in a plan to stop a real estate tycoon from destroying the environment. In order to help save the home of her people, mermaid Shan (Jelly Lin) learns how to exist on land in order to seduce and kill Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), the billionaire entrepreneur whose latest development is causing the destruction of all sea life in the area with a weapon that resembles something out of a James Bond film. Shan predictably ends up falling in love with Liu Xuan, who inevitably learns the error in his ways. This may sound like a spoiler, but The Mermaid is not a film filled with narrative surprises. Style alone is what makes this film stand apart, utilizing Chow’s signature cartoonish action and sense of humor.
Nearly everything about this film feels expected, even in its uniqueness, until the bloody turn towards the end. Chow goes for shock value as he has done many times before, but he does it to give the environmental message impact rather than for cheap laughs. Until the last fifteen minutes or so, I was convinced that the R-rating was a huge mistake. Part of me is still convinced that this would have received a PG-13 had it been a superhero blockbuster.
Controversy and creativity aside, I wasn’t as impressed with The Mermaid as I had hoped. The unique visual style of Chow’s work lacks the same impact it had with his first few hits, and the moral message feels a bit too broad, never really earning the pathos that it demands of the audience. Even with the inclusion of some shocking documentary footage to force home the film’s underlining point, The Mermaid is a bit too silly and disjointed to take seriously. We have consistently seen that box office numbers don’t always equate with quality filmmaking, and I would liken the success of The Mermaid in China to that of Deadpool in America.
The Blu-ray release also comes with a Digital HD copy of the film. You might think that the visual style of the film would beg for a high definition presentation, but the effects are surprisingly rudimentary. Perhaps the over-reliance on cheap CGI is just Chow’s style, but here it feels like a limitation of the budget. The special features included on the disc are a making-of featurette, behind-the-scenes footage, and a music video.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 7/10
Special Features: 6/10