July 1, 2016

Blu-Ray Review: THE MERMAID

Starring Deng Chao, Lin Yun, Show Luo, Zhang Yuqi, Kris Wu. Directed by Stephen Chow. (2016, 94 min).

According to the press (and the cover), Stephen Chow's The Mermaid is already China's biggest movie of all time. If there was any justice in the world, the film would also be one of the bigger hits of 2016 everywhere else.

One of my ongoing pet peeves is the stupid practice of giving foreign language films limited releases in a few urban arthouses, simply because of the subtitles. Studios, distributors and theater chains are under the assumption that English speaking audiences don't go to the movies to read. The sad thing is they're probably right, because most of us have been conditioned to assume any movie with subtitles is inherently an "art film," taking too much effort on the viewer's part.

But Hollywood doesn't have the monopoly on big-ass action films, crazy comedies or mega-budget epics. What a thrill it must have been to see The Raid, Wild Tales, The Host or Kung Fu Hustle on the big screen in a packed theater. Most of us never got that chance, though, because subtitles are strictly for intellects.

Speaking of Kung Fu Hustle, it does have a pretty large cult following, so some of you may already know Stephen Chow doesn't direct art films. He makes audience pictures. Not just audience pictures, but quirky, clever, outrageously-plotted action comedies as good as anything Hollywood cranks out...and often better. The Mermaid is his latest, and so far, it's the best movie of the year, in any genre or language.

Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) is a self-centered, womanizing billionaire who purchases Green Gulf, a wildlife preserve, with equally unscrupulous (and seductive) business partner Ruolan (Zhang Yugi). He's also placed sonar probes throughout the ocean surrounding the island to keep dolphins and other wildlife away. What Liu doesn't realize is Green Gulf is also home to a race of mermaids who are slowly dying from the sonars' effects. So they send Shan (Lin Yun) as a 'honeytrap' to seduce and kill him. What happens instead is the two fall in love, much to the chagrin of both Ruolan and Octopus (Show Luo as the perpetually angry leader of the mermaids).

"Well, somebody peed in the pool!"

Like Chow's best films (Shaolin Soccer & Kung Fu Hustle), The Mermaid doesn't fit into any particular genre. It has a lot of action, heart and humor, including clever set-pieces which sometimes have nothing to do with the actual plot (a prolonged scene where Liu is trying to convince police that mermaids are real is truly classic). Even the questionable CGI is part of what makes the film so endearing. At its center is a charming love story that we've seen before, but it never takes itself too seriously.

In some ways, Stephen Chow reminds me a lot of classic era Mel Brooks. Though Chow's films aren't necessarily parodies, he approaches them with a similarly single-minded desire to entertain at all costs. He throws everything he has into each scene, and while they don't always result in a big payoff, a majority of them are pure movie magic. The Mermaid is, by turns, charming, suspenseful, smart and laugh-out-loud funny, along with a subtle message most of us need to be reminded of from time to time.

While the film does contain some violence, language and a bit of sensuality, ignore the inexplicable R rating given by the MPAA. The Mermaid is the very definition of an "audience picture" and a hell of a great time. You'll also forget you're reading subtitles within the first few minutes.

  • Featurettes: "The Making of The Mermaid"; "The Mermaid: Behind the Scenes"
  • Music Video: "Invincible" (it's actually quite funny)
  • Digital Copy

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