Movie Review: The Mermaid


A mermaid is tasked with assassinating the rich developer responsible for destroying her habitat, but finds herself falling for him instead.


Stephen Chow, 2016

Millionaire tycoon Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) outbids his eccentric, rich friends to purchase an area of ocean called the Green Gulf in order to reclaim it. On the advice of his business partner, the ambitious Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi), Xuan uses sonar to clear out the aquatic life. Unbeknownst to him, a community of mermaids lives in the Gulf, and the sonar is slowly killing them off. The quirky Shan (Jelly Lin) is trained to assassinate Xuan, going undercover on land to get close to him. However, when her attempts fail, Shan starts getting to know Xuan, and they fall in love with each other. This angers her community, including her uncle Octopus (Show Luo), who takes over where Shan has failed and tries to kill Xuan himself.

There’s definitely nobody out there making films quite like Stephen Chow’s. Quirky and eccentric don’t quite seem to cover the oddity on display in The Mermaid. The film is also about as subtle in its themes as an environmental activist screaming in your face while chained to a whale. It’s kind of brilliant. The film is full of unforgettable elements and scenes that will stick with you for days. It takes a while to warm up – we spend a lot of the film’s opening with a lot of unlikable rich weirdos – but once the film gets going it’s non-stop action, varying from comedic to dark and violent while maintaining a consistent aesthetic. It feels fluid, rolling easily from political satire to wacky mermaid fun to violent purge without missing a beat. There are a fair few laugh-out-loud moments, but the core of the film is almost earnestly sweet. It’s chaotically bright and colourful, leaping off the screen at the viewer as if challenging you to hate it.

Given the film’s aggressively quirky nature, it could easily fail if the characters were hard to identify with. Fortunately, both Deng Chao and Jelly Lin ensure put in good performances. It takes a long time before Xuan is someone the audience comes even close to liking, and it’s only though Shan’s optimistic, generous view of the world that he eventually starts to redeem himself. Jelly Lin is adorable in the lead, but she also pulls off the film’s physical comedy brilliantly. Zhang Quyi and Show Luo are good in support as well – Luo provides a lot of the humour (he performs the hell out of one particularly bonkers scene that is dark, violent, and hilarious at the same time), while Quyi’s bad guy is very femme fatale. There’s some pretty heavy sexism in the film, particularly in the contradictions between the ambitious, cutthroat Ruolan (powerful women are evil!) and the poor, innocent Shan. One of the film’s standout characters is the wise old mermaid leader, whose massive rainbow tail spins tales of its own, and she almost gets more to do in her five minutes of screentime than either of the main women in the film. Given the boundaries the movie pushes, it’s a shame it falls into such easy tropes regarding women. Still, it’s something different from anything else you’re likely to see this decade, and for that alone I highly recommend watching The Mermaid.

The Mermaid on IMDb


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