The Hong Kong poster for Stephen Chow's
enchanting Chinese New Year blockbuster
Mermaid (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2016)
- Stephen Chow, director
- Starring: Jelly Lin, Deng Chao, Show Luo, Kitty Zhang
Last week, this imaginative Chinese New Year film directed and co-scripted (with seven others) by -- but not starring -- Stephen Chow became the highest grossing movie ever in Mainland China. Shot and set over on the mainland, its four main actresses and actors are native Mandarin speakers (with only one of the three -- Taiwanese singer-dancer-actor Show Luo -- hailing from outside Mainland China).
At the same time though, there's something distinctively Hong Kong with regards to Mermaid's filmic composition and mixing (even transcending) of genres; and many elements familiar to fans of its Hong Kong-born helmer's made-and-(generally) set-in-Hong Kong movies. Which, no doubt, is why this cinematic offering that successfully combines fun entertainment with thoroughly pertinent messages about human greed and environmental recklessness also has achieved major box office success here in the Fragrant Harbour.
Before the film's winsome titular character first appears on screen, expectations are lowered courtesy of a scene in an unbelievably schlocky tourist trap that looked to be trying too hard and ones featuring filthy rich people vying to make still more moolah, at the expense of others and the environment, that get the main story off to a bombastic start. In both cases, ugly vulgarity appears to rule the day, albeit in different forms, with the result that the movie and story looked to be crying out for someone, or something, with a nicer nature to be added to the mix.
After billionaire businessman Liu (Deng Chao) outbids his competitors (including one played by Tsui Hark) to secure a prized property (and to make it really valuable, also get official approval to reclaim the surrounding Green Gulf), he throws an extravagant party at which all manner of females, including his ruthless business rival-turned-partner Ruolan (Kitty Zhang) and a bevy of beauties who'd do whatever is necessary to get their hands on something worth millions of yuan, vie for his attention and affections.
On the face of it, bumbling gate crasher Shanshan (Jelly Lin) has no chance of getting close to Liu. Still, she does at least succeed in giving him her phone number before she's duly unceremoniously bustled away from Liu's view by his security detail. And in an eye-catching following sequence, she's shown to not only have hidden talents (that include her being a pretty nifty skateboarder) but, also, a fish-like tail where her legs would be if she were a human rather than a mermaid!
In another twist in the tale, it's revealed that Shanshan actually is a key individual in her aquatic community's plan to assassinate Liu, in a bid to stop ongoing damage to Green Gulf's environment attributed to him. Predictably though, she's quickly shown to not be the best candidate for the task; seeing as she lacks such as the smoldering anger of the half-human, half-octopus Brother Eight (Show Luo) and -- in the kind of guffaw-inducing slapstick scene that has been the highlight of many a Stephen Chow movie -- proves super inept at being able to make use of the imaginative array of weapons she was furnished with!
In her first ever film appearance, Jelly Lin makes an impressively big splash, and Mermaid's titular character enchantingly endearing. So wonderful is the still-teenaged actress in her role that one could argue that her presence in this movie that I actually found heartwarming does quite a bit to elevate it in both the qualitative and lovability departments.
Although the characters they play in this work are less endearing, Deng Chao, Show Luo and Kitty Zhang are truly fun to watch and able to make good use of the opportunities they are given to individually shine. So good are the principal members of Mermaid's cast that I actually ended up not minding much at all that Stephen Chow opted to do all his work behind the camera (this time around). Another way to look at it is that this film shows that Hong Kong cinema's king of comedy is well capable of ensuring that a movie is funny, full to the brim of those of his trademark touches that thoroughly entertain, and also able -- when he wants to -- of stirring consciences and hearts.
My rating for this film: 8.0