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The Mermaid (2016), a mermaid assassin’s bonkerstastic Chinese action-fantasy love story.

May 14, 2017

MY CALL:  Highly recommended to fans of bonkers Asian fantasy-adventure films.  And no, I don’t mean high octane action or crazy stunts, I mean conceptually bonkers.  MORE MOVIES LIKE The MermaidFor more mermaid movies try The Lure (2015) or Killer Mermaid (2014). Want more Asian fantasy action or bonkers Asian-influenced adventure? Try The Devil’s Sword (1984), Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000), Shinobi (2005), Legend of the Tsunami Warrior (2008), The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008), The Warrior’s Way (2010), The Painted Skin (2012) and Tai Chi Zero (2012).

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) was pretty silly at times, but knew when to reign in the silly for dire urgency. This film is more deliberately stupid, even slapstick, and feels suitable for children…at first, anyway.  We even get a nonsensical lesson in the fairy tale evolution of the mer people—grounded in some Waterworld theory that diverged the “descendants of apes” into man on land and merman by sea.  Seems legit.

This was rated R and, for most of the film’s duration, I fail to see why. In the beginning, it’s really more childishly cutesy than anything—with a more PG murderous slant to it. Shan (Yun Lin; Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back) is a mermaid sent to assassinate Liu Xuan (Chao Deng; Detective Dee), a developer who threatens the ecosystem of her dying mer-race.  Somewhere during her humorously botched attempts to kill him using sea urchins and poison, she instead shows him that money isn’t everything and they end up falling for each other.

The film makes a strong pro-environmental statement. Our greedy mogul Liu buys an environmentally protected island, procures a reclamation permit to develop the land, and commissions some sort of super-charged sonar devices to repel (errr…explode) marine life.  It turns out the island he bought was home to Shan’s mermaid clan (including Chi Ling Chiu and Mei’e Zhang), who live in a shipwrecked tanker where they take refuge from Liu’s sonar death rays.

The CGI is poor and the wirework is weak and executed too slowly, making long jumps appear more like floating in Willy Wonka’s bubble room. The only effects I appreciated were the Octopus man’s (Show Lo; Journey to the West) cephalopod legs.  We get a lot of that and he really steals the show!

Overall I wasn’t very impressed with the cute aspects of the film—although, admittedly, many would favor that sort of warm fuzzy Anime-romance propelling us from first date “I love yous” to a second date proposal. However, there was one scene that had me howling-laughing out loud for its entire duration. The “octopus teppanyaki scene” is absolutely worth the price of admission and perhaps the first scene worthy of a PG-13 rating since…well…we basically see Octopus get unassumingly tortured, with his tentacles chopped up and “cooked” in a sort of classic comedy scenario right in front of him.  His face is priceless!  Another hilarious part was the “police station scene” complete with silly sketch art.  And don’t even get me into the pants-crapping sonar test bit.

“Was this her?”

As we move into our final and most violent third act, things shift more into the “hard PG-13” stage that apparently earned this an R rating.  There’s no nudity, sex or profanity and there is no direct on-screen death (although much is implied and we witness several harpoonings and gunshot injuries).

Director Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle, Shaolin Soccer, Journey to the West) mixes seafaring folklore with Asian action cinema. If you think you’re about to watch The Little Mermaid (1989) meets Kung Fu Hustle (2004), just know it’s going to be much closer to the giggly former than the latter despite a lot of third act mermaid slaughter.  And the action is not top notch—just passable.  But Chow does deliver all the zaniness you’d expect with his Kung Fu Hustle roots.  In addition to the scenes mentioned above, we have fishtail water sorcery smacking of an aquatic Dumbledore and the complete mermaid lair raid insanity including a mad marine biologist shooting machine guns and a leather-clad wealthy realty executrix (Yuqi Zhang; CJ7) giving kill orders and harpooning her business partner as if the two were employed by Doctor Evil!

Bonkers. This was bonkers.  I’m reminded of The Good, the Bad and the Weird (2008) and The Warrior’s Way (2010). This film is one part cutesy Anime romance, one part mythic-meets-modern Little Mermaid fantasy, and one part mermaid genocide lunacy.  No matter what you expected coming into this, I expect you’ll be entertained!

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