Take a Drink: whenever the lead actress gets abused
Take a Drink: for disgusting but somehow hilarious moments
Take a Drink: for especially awful CGI
Take a Drink: whenever anybody speaks in English
Take a Drink: whenever an old lady mermaid is a badass
Take a Drink: whenever somebody throws money
Do a Shot: for the life-saving qualities of alcohol
Do a Shot: for a woman scorned demonstrating how hell’s fury is no match for hers
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
The second biggest movie in the world right now, and only by a hair below Deadpool, is playing in 82 theaters in the country. If one of those theaters is near you, and you’d like to see what blockbuster filmmaking twenty years from now looks like, for worse, a little, but also for better in many ways, then you need to go and watch The Mermaid.
Yes, I’m talking about China, and yes, they just propelled a movie to $500 million without Hollywood’s help at all.
The Mermaid has been described by nonplussed critics as some unholy amalgam of The Little Mermaid/Lust, Caution/Kung Fu Hustle/dolphin slaughter shock doc The Cove/and those Korean melodramas currently overtaking Hulu and Netflix. All of this is true. The plot, simplified, is a mermaid disguises herself as a human in order to seduce the corrupt land developer who is poisoning her species, but finds herself falling for him.
As open to conventional bullshit as that synopsis sounds, and make no mistake, if Hollywood made this film it would star a rising starlet trying to stretch into more adult roles, say a Chloe Grace Moretz/Saoirse Ronan/Shailene Woodley type alongside a wooden white lesser Hemsworth/whatever the hell a Theo James is, and be clearly setting up a sequel, this is not that kind of of movie. Rather, this is a Stephen Chow movie, the director/star of Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer and the the guy who threatened to make a Green Hornet movie so interesting that Hollywood had to fire him off of it.
Christoph Waltz and one whimsical Michel Gondry montage was as far as they’d go
Chow stays behind the camera this time, but is all over this- especially his trademark insane, random cartoon humor that hits far, far more than it misses, the looney tune physics of his action and comedy setpieces, and larger than life slapstick and melodrama (often mixed and played both for both laughs and for unexpectedly effective pathos). The film’s also surprisingly nasty in places- lead actress Lin Yun, in her first role right out of high school, is plenty pretty, but shows absolutely no shame when called on to take a slapstick beating in a particularly hilarious scene where she keeps getting foiled while trying to straight up murder lead actor Deng Chao. Both demonstrate great comic chops, quickly developing chemistry, and the deftness to sell the dramatic moments that often occur right on the heels of a comic scene.
My favorite supporting roles, though, were Taiwanese superstar Show Luo as a mer-octopus-man, who at first occupies the simmering Taylor Lautner second fiddle role but later shows surprising comic ability, especially in a teppanyaki scene in which his tentacles find themselves in about five different kinds of wince-inducing peril, plus Chow’s usual roster of strange looking humans in support roles, especially a middle aged lady mermaid who just didn’t give a fuck in the most glorious of ways.
50-60 year old Asian women give the least fucks of anybody on the planet.
However, the most important aspect of the film, perhaps most surprisingly, is the message. Besides the more common “money doesn’t mean everything” platitudes, it’s baldly environmentalist and in your face about it, up to including stomach-churning footage that may actually be from The Cove. It’s ballsy, provocative, and effective; no wonder Hollywood took a pass on Chow. He actually has something to say.
In a country where somebody gets an stupid idea like manta ray gills curing cancer in their head and the resulting demand, irrespective of legality, can push an entire species to the brink of extinction in a matter of years, this is profoundly important.* Take all your somber Hollywood issue movies and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine. The fact that $528 million dollars worth of tickets have been sold for this, predominantly in markets where the message may be needed most, still unjaded unlike Western audiences and probably more important to the future of this planet as a whole, makes this a capital letters Important Film. Chow might be doing something 10,000 Inconvenient Truths could never do- catalyze real change.
*Watch this and weep for our species. Also, eat vegan once a week.
This is an odd, odd, odd concoction. Chow’s goofy, awful ropy usage of CGI hasn’t gotten even a smidge more sophisticated since 2001’s Shaolin Soccer, and I almost kind of prefer it that way. The way it interacts with 3-D is pretty objectively terrible, though.
Likewise, the humor zigzags so sharply between sophomoric raunchy and pitch black horrific and everywhere else along the spectrum that some viewers are liable to be turned off. Ditto for the cavalier way that Chow uses dubbing. The singing is especially hilariously out of sync.
I kind of love all of it.
There is no logical reason why The Mermaid‘s crazy pastiche of a lot of diametrically opposed styles, genres, and ideas works so well, but it really, really does.