Essentially, The Mermaid is an adult fairy tale, a retelling of The Little Mermaid with a bonkers sense of humour. Seriously, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like/never watch Chinese film, subtitled films, or fantasy; you will still laugh your arse off. Chow churns out his usual brand of sickeningly unlucky humour and ridiculous fantasy, allowing a set of well-developed characters the chance to put themselves in preposterously cruel situations. Botched assassinations and a brutal self-sushi sequence are top of the list for black comedy gold. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to wince at.
After Shaolin Soccer and Kung-Fu Hustle, it would have been nice to see a bit more action. But then, the film is never more charming than when it focuses on the smaller picture, allowing performers Deng Chao and Jelly Lin to showcase their comic timing and the excellent dialogue. The digital effects are a strange issue too. Due to the overall garishness of the film, the ropey effects shouldn’t be too much of an eyesore but a lot of it looks plain bad. Maybe that’s purposeful, considering that The Mermaid is about the collision of two very different worlds, perhaps never better actualised than through the dodgy reality-meets-fantasy aesthetic of the mer-people. I suppose there’s a point to be made here: just because you can see the strings, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the puppet show.
The charms of Chow’s latest aren’t limited to a finely tuned humour or romance. The production design of the mermaid hideaway is a thing of obnoxious splendour, a derelict ship full of colour and vibrancy. Some ace song choices, zany editing, and –if those aren’t your interests- jetpack shenanigans, prove a live-wire appreciation for shameless fun. Thankfully, Chow knows not to ditch his nastier tastes in the face of the fairy tale-isms, keeping a fairly grotesque sensibility throughout without going too far. At its nastiest, the violence is shocking, whilst at its most reserved it has the capacity to be hilarious.
This isn’t quite a film for all ages, there’s too much eco-chat and business jargon early on to keep kids happy, but there’s so much good-natured humour and fantastical imagery that it feels like it might bridge a gap. At the very least, adults will really appreciate having such a pleasantly acidic and hilarious bedtime fairy tale.
THE MERMAID / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: STEPHEN CHOW / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: CHAO DENG, YUN LIN, SHOW LUO, YUQI ZHANG / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW