The highest grossing film in China of all time, The Mermaid is worth watching to at least understand the growing Chinese film market and I have to say I’m a bit perplexed. That’s not to say that The Mermaid is a bad film, it just doesn’t feel like something that should be a big hit.
Was it the clout of talent like Stephen Chow and the cast he assembled? Was it the marketing that kept a lot of the film under wraps? The music videos? The growing Chinese market? Or maybe it was the fact it opened right after Chinese New Year. It’s probably a bit of each. In any case, it made it big splash and, well, I’m still not sure I get it.
The Mermaid is the story of mermaid Shan (Yun Lin), who is sent to assassinate Xuan (Chao Deng), a rich businessman who has unwittingly trapped her people inside an abandoned boat. She poses as a human and does her best to seduce him, but falls in love with him in the process. Hijinx ensue, limbs are lost, laughter is had.
My biggest gripe is that for a comedy, I didn’t find it all that funny. Sure, humor is subjective, but the sheer number of jokes here should have hit more often than they do. I mostly chuckled with only a few laugh out loud moments. I think my biggest problem is that the slapstick is played a bit too hard for its own good. It’s the bad kind of cartoonish humor and it rarely amused me.
It doesn’t help that the film’s environmentally conscious message is on the nose. It’s the typical maniacal corporate greed vs. environmental activism that, while certainly timely, is a bit too much. Perhaps a comedy shouldn’t be expected to have nuanced, subdued themes, but it comes across as over the top.
And then you get to the CGI. There’s a lot of work here that comes across as cheap and silly. The mermaids generally look okay, but once the violence kicks in, things look goofy. It’s surprisingly violent for such an upbeat comedic romp, and the violence is plastically and cheap looking.
I know it sounds like I’m ragging a lot on this film, which gives the impression I didn’t like it. It’s a fun film with some lovely performances. Yun Lin is a fun lead and my goodness Zhang Yuqi is ridiculously hot in this film. Chao Deng gets most of the best laughs in the film. It’s a fun romp, but the kind of film you’d expect to simply get a solid boxoffice, not the best of all time in China.
For a film as popular as this, I’m still left perplexed. It’s a decent film, but not the kind of film you’d expect to break box office records. There are certainly Chinese films that feel bigger than this, like Chow’s last film: Journey to the West. Then again, I live in the country where the highest grossing film is basically racist whitewashing, so if China’s biggest selling film is environmentally conscious, maybe they’ve got something figured out and we’re the oddballs.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing