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The Mermaid (2016)
Director: Stephen Chow

review by Steven Hampton

Proper mermaid movies are rare enough that two or more live-action productions appearing in the same decade might seem related. However, Killer Mermaids (aka: Nymph, 2014), was a Serbian fantasy horror, shot in English, and it guest-starred Franco Nero. Chinese movie The Mermaid (aka: Mei ren yu) seems essentially like a belated remake of Disney's rom-com Splash (1984), albeit on a bigger scale that presents us with many action sequences and lots of special effects.

Greedy tycoon Liu Xuan (Chao Deng, Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame) buys Green Gulf, an enclave property and likely resort site with a reclamation permit. Liu's prospective girlfriend Ruo-lan (Yuqi Zhang, Lost In The Pacific) coolly tolerates his philandering and obsessive vanity, at first, but she turns jealous when Liu pursues a younger woman. When said girl is revealed to be a mermaid, Ruo-lan becomes just as dangerous as a shark in a swimming pool.

There is plenty of CGI for both slapstick comedy and undersea back-story exposition. Shan (Jun 'Jelly' Lin) skateboards around in her mermaid costume, all the way back to a mer-folk hideout at a shipwreck on the coastline. Under the disguise outfit, she's a real fishtail, trained for an away mission on land to seduce and assassinate Liu. She fails at romance and at killing, repeatedly, sometimes spectacularly, often hilariously.

The movie showcases cultural asides and upends a fairytale scenario with its humour about how strange innocence enchants a corrupt billionaire. As mermaid Shan falls in love with her target, he succumbs to her quirky charm. "If there were only one minute left in your life... what would you do?" Although ecological concerns, conservationist motives, and environmental divisions (the movie's bad guys want blood in the water), drive a simplistic plot forward, it's the burgeoning romance that holds our attention. Stephen Chow, previously the maker of the hugely enjoyable Kung Fu Hustle, directs Mermaid with verve and impressive skill at balancing the serious ecological message and adorably campy silliness. This is tremendously entertaining, and its witty appeal and wonderful visuals have made it the most successful Chinese movie to date.

After the action scenes, remarkable of human cruelty with gunmen hunting Shan and her fishy species, a happy ending ensues, of course. If I give away further plot details, that would spoil the fun. Suffice to say, this is a welcome addition to the subgenre of sea-life adventures, and well worth seeing if you prefer rom-com pictures spiced with fantasy. Hopefully director Chow's Journey To The West (2013) will get a UK release on DVD soon.

The Mermaid

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