Directed by Stephen Chow
Starring: Deng Chao, Lin Yun
Genre: Comedy, Romance, Fantasy
Runtime: 94 minutes, Year: 2016
Grade: A –
What has the “genre” of a movie got to do with its rating? For me, heck of a lot. It determines my expectation, my mindset before sitting down to watch a movie with a pencil and a note in my hands. (I know, I’m biased, but who isn’t? No one is truly neutral.) Three genres I rarely make time to watch are: romance, comedy, and fantasy. “Mermaid” is a mix-match of all these three. Then, was my low-expectation of the film the cause of such a high grade? Definitely no. Knowing that it was a film written, produced, and directed by Stephen Chow, (the main reason I chose to spend my meager downtime to watch the film) my expectation was high enough. It is Chow’s way of subverting our assumptions and past experiences of films that makes him one of the most unique, most exciting directors working today.
I mentioned that I resist those three aforementioned genres. In addition, I care little about blockbuster movies. (For the records, I’ve never watched any one of the series of Transformer, Fast-and-Furies, and even Star Wars!) Mermaid is the highest crossing film in China ever. The sheer ingenuity and pure fun of the movie must have been responsibility for such reaction from Chinese movie goers.
A working-class girl is sent on a mission to assassinate a super-rich guy but they end up falling in love. What a cliché!, you might think. However, the genius of this movie rests on how Chow transforms this overused plot into something so quirky and entertaining, using both comedies and fresh imagination. Another twist to the clichéd storyline: the girl is a mermaid (which should be obvious from title and the poster), a species unknown to human beings but who nevertheless have existed at the dark of the ocean, and the guy became a billionaire by using the Sonar technology, which kills anything nearby it in the ocean, and which inadvertently included the mermaid clans. He is also a playboy (another cliché about a billionaire tycoon), so the mermaid clan sends the girl, whose beauty is not apparent but glimpsed at, to lure him and murder him. It should sound like a thriller, but it’s a comic adventure they embark on together. My wife and I watched this very late at night, exhausted by work and children, but we both died laughing.
It’s a wonder how Chow’s comic apparatus works in the context of this movie because when you think back, it feels silly and dumb, but they nevertheless work perfectly in tune with the overarching aim of the film. Watching the movie, there’s no chance that you’ll just smirk, regardless of how wacky you may think the certain comedic scenes are; you always burst into laughter. This is all the more amazing because there are scenes of violence and emotional cringe.
I have been talking only about the two protagonist, but a crew of supporting characters add much joy to the already joyful film. We have a half-human, half-octopus who is the second-in-command in the mermaid crew; an elder mermaid (who must be a couple hundred years old,) who sweeps her fins to use powerful, magical wave attack, a billionaire lady who partners with our main guy for the real estate project and whose ambition stretches beyond that of his.
Anything I try more to explain the movie will be insufficient; just go (or borrow or download) and watch it. If you’ve never watched the Chinese film, (or Stephen Chow’s films), this movie can be a primer. I guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. You might not be impressed; you might not learn a life lesson; but you will have a hell of a wonderful time watching the movie.