Still unsure which side of the fence I’m landing with this one. From what little I have seen of Stephen Chow’s filmography, there’s a certain charm to his comedic endeavor that helps out with elevating his best work to the heights that they reach, but maybe they’re helped in part by his onscreen presence, something which The Mermaid is lacking. Even CJ7 carried some of his own onscreen charm although I’d argue that as his worst film from what I’ve seen, but ultimately it proved one of very few rewarding factors of said film. Given what The Mermaid is heading out for, there’s a certain level where I can admire it because at its very best, the comedy lands extremely well. And yet, by the time the film ended, I just came out with such an indifferent reaction, as so many mixed feelings raced through my head.
What I always love about the films of Stephen Chow is how they go on about even with how much sillier they get as they keep going, as it always makes his work so engaging to watch. Stephen Chow never lets go of the energy and it keeps The Mermaid flowing smoothly. At its very best, The Mermaid is extremely funny, and at its worst, it is able to elicit a chuckle. Without said ridiculousness giving the energy to The Mermaid, it would obviously not work at keeping its viewers’ attention but even with all of this defining The Mermaid as it stands, I still cannot help but feel as if I have been left underwhelmed with what had already been offered.
Even with all of the ridiculousness coming in, there’s a clever allegory hidden behind it, which is something I do appreciate. Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid provides a commentary about the impact of pollution inside of our world. On this count alone, it’s already rather highly admirable what intentions The Mermaid has because what it is presenting is a unique manner of getting across a message about an important topic that is affecting the whole world. Unfortunately, it also seems as if this also becomes one of the lower points for The Mermaid, because even with a distinctive outer shell for its own allegory, it rather noticeably feels quite lacking in very much else. It’s a shame because The Mermaid has enough to become Stephen Chow at his peak, yet it’s somewhat flat.
As noted inside of an above paragraph, the leading actors are absolutely impressive with the material that they have – even if the weakest points of the script are exposed. Even without Stephen Chow’s onscreen presence, there’s a certain energy that reminds of his own characters from how Deng Chao is performing, as he is unabashedly wacky much like Chow’s characters in Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Newcomer Lin Yun is sure to take the spotlight for some, as within the role of the titular “mermaid” and the film’s protagonist, she carries the core of the film. Given the dedication which the performers are putting into these characters, I still feel rather underwhelmed with what I have been receiving.
With all the rather admirable aspects of The Mermaid, I feel like the key problem is rather simple: I just could never bring myself to care for what was going on at least half the time. Sure, I was laughing during its funniest scenes and I was also impressed with some of the performances, but I thought back to myself, what reason was there for me to feel like I’m involved with what was going on? Stephen Chow knows what he wants to get across to his viewers, but it seems as if where he is failing is providing a reason for involvement in spite of his containing of the ingredients that could be his very best work. It also didn’t help that the whole time, I found The Mermaid to be a work that just moves in all sorts of directions without standing out, as the guide it takes is nothing rather new.
The Mermaid is a film with so much going for it, yet unfortunately it never presents much that feels refreshing. It has all the elements that could easily turn into what could have been one of Stephen Chow’s best films, yet for whatever reason, it still feels somewhat empty. Like Stephen Chow’s best films though, it is never afraid to go full-on out with the silliness and it is also very funny during its highest points. The ambition which it does carry is yet another one of its most admirable points, but I still never found much of it to live up to what it could have been: a thought-provoking environmental PSA addressing an important issue under all of its absurdity. I won’t lie when I say that I did have fun watching it, but knowing what heights Stephen Chow can achieve, I feel like it really could have been much more.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Beijing Enlight Pictures.
Directed by Stephen Chow
Screenplay by Stephen Chow, Kelvin Lee, Ho Miu-kei, Lu Zhengyu, Fung Chih-chiang, Ivy Kong, Chan Hing-ka, Tsang Kan-cheung
Produced by Stephen Chow, Ivy Kong, Wei Yang
Starring Deng Chao, Lin Yun, Show Luo, Zhang Yuqi
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 94 minutes