The Mermaid/Mei Ren Yu (Film Review)

A cautionary tale for the modern world, Stephen Chow style.


mermaid-poster
Characters:

  • Deng Chao as Liu Xuan
  • Jelly Lin as Shan Shan
  • Show Luo as Eighth Brother
  • Zhang Yu Qi as Ruo Lan

Details:

  • Chinese/Hong Kong
  • Director: Stephen Chow (also co-producer & co-writer)
  • Running time: 94 minutes
  • Release date: February 8, 2016

Quick Rundown:

Unbeknownst to humans, merpeople are indeed real, but their numbers have drastically dwindled over the years. After business tycoon, Liu Xuan’s, latest land acquisition uses sonar technology to get rid of the area’s sea life, the merpeople decide to avenge their people that have become sick or dead. They send in Shan Shan, a beautiful mermaid, to disguise as a human, seduce Liu Xuan, and then assassinate him. Things, however, don’t go quite according to plan when she falls in love with the very man she’s supposed to kill.

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Anna’s Take

Hey there, Stephen Chow! It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a film of his; the last probably being CJ7. Even though I haven’t been keeping up to date with his more recent offerings, the style and aesthetic of his films are so unique that it doesn’t take long to be reacquainted. And while I was initially slightly disappointed to learn that he wouldn’t actually be starring in The Mermaid, the overwhelming popularity of the film quickly convinced me to watch it. Much to nobody’s surprise, the movie is the quintessential Stephen Chow comedy. His ability to use a completely absurd premise and turn it into a heartwarming story has often been imitated, but never fully duplicated. The Mermaid is an ambitious piece of filmmaking that embodies the best of Stephen Chow, both the jokester and visionary.

Like I mentioned above, I wish that Chow was actually starring in the film. The role of obnoxious playboy tycoon, Liu Xuan, is the type of role that a younger Chow would have absolutely loved to play (and endlessly poke fun of). And even though I definitely missed his excellent comedic timing on-screen, his presence was nevertheless felt throughout The Mermaid. The unrealistic story, slapstick humor, irreverent speech, heartwarming conclusion all screamed “Stephen Chow.” Never before have I recognized a style of a director more acutely than I did here. Perhaps that was the whole point of him sitting this one out.

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The Mermaid is everything you’d expect after reading about the premise, its cast and director. It neither disappointed nor shocked me, Instead, it was exactly what I thought it’d be, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun and enjoyable! Think the best parts of a summer comedy combined with the inherent ridiculousness of Lunar New Year films, and you’ve got yourself The Mermaid. The CGI is intentionally(?) terrible and obvious, but having slick, polished visuals is never something I associated with Chow’s films. For the uninitiated, it might all seem like too much (especially when the leads break out in a musical number), but that’s the fun of a Stephen Chow film. And having watched the Hong Kong version of The Mermaid with the Cantonese dub, I loved that the dialogue and jokes remain as crude, yet hilarious, as ever.

The cast is commendable for trying to bring Chow’s unique brand of humor to life, but the lack of true comedians made some of the jokes and their punchlines fall flat. Besides maybe Show Luo, the leads, Deng Chao and Jelly Lin, never seemed fully comfortable in doing comedy. Maybe I’m comparing them too much to the OG comedians of classic Stephen Chow films, but it’s difficult not to. To their credit though, the leads seemed willing and enthusiastic to put themselves out there. Deng Chao mostly does dramatic roles, so kudos for embracing the silliness and slapstick. Jelly Lin, a newcomer, was definitely less polished than her counterparts and previous famous actress in Chow’s films, but she too seemed game for anything. There isn’t much to nitpick with the acting, but hey, I also wasn’t expecting award-winning performances either.

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Don’t be mistaken; The Mermaid is not The Little Mermaid with a twist. It’s a distinctly modern story that serves as a cautionary tale for both China and the world at large. I don’t know Stephen Chow’s personal thoughts and opinions on environmental conservation, but if the movie is any indication, he’s quite the advocate for it. It’s difficult to separate the political message from the colorful, silly aspects of the movie, and maybe that was the point. The Mermaid won’t rank as high as other Stephen Chow movies in my all-time favorites, but it’s the perfect encapsulation of the “Stephen Chow” brand.

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This & That:

  • The Mermaid had the biggest opening day for a Chinese film, earning US$40.9 million. It continued to break all box office records, and became the highest-grossing Chinese film of all time on February 16, 2016.
  • Jelly Lin was cast as the titular character after beating out 120,000 participants in the talent contest organized by Stephen Chow and his casting team.
  • The Mermaid was not released in Taiwan because the Taiwanese quota regulations only allow 10 Mainland Chinese films to be released in the country per year. Mainland films must draw lots and numbers 1-10 are released (The Mermaid was #44). This was the first time the Taiwanese audience missed a Stephen Chow film, and as a result, there were fan protests.
  • The film’s theme song, “Invincible,” was written by Stephen Chow and performed by Deng Chao.
  • The sub-theme/promotional song, “You Are the Best in the World,” is a cover of the popular song from the drama, The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1983). The cover was performed by Adam Cheng and Karen Mok.
  • The inspiration for the film was from the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, The Little Mermaid, and Chow’s own childhood experience of living by the ocean.
  • Director Tsui Hark and actor/former EXO member, Kris Wu, made cameo appearances in the film.
  • William Feng (the Prince of Lan Ling!) is rumored to be dating Jelly Lin, who is 18 years younger than him. Feng was previously in a relationship with Mainland actress, Ni Ni.

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4 thoughts on “The Mermaid/Mei Ren Yu (Film Review)

  1. I’d seen the trailer but had no idea it was supposed to be a comedy. So I watched some other videos last night and saw some of those scenes. I’m definitely going to have to watch it – especially now that I know Show Luo is in it. I barely recognize him!!

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  2. L says:

    I caught it a couple of months back. The absurdist bits were hilarious! Loved the police sketches. Tee hee! I think that it was pretty cool that he could incorporate the environmental message in the film so effectively. The heiress storyline/character needs a major overhaul though…

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  3. I watched the movie too and totally loved it! I remember watching some Stephen Chow movies in the past, but I don’t remember much from them. This one however is a total masterpiece and made me laugh AND cry from the beginning until the end. It also made me (re)discover Deng Chao and Jelly Lin. ❀

    Like

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