The Mermaid is, beyond a doubt, the biggest theatrical disappointment of 2016 for me. The one trailer that I saw for it late last year made me think that writer/director Stephen Chow was back on form, but alas, instead of a bowl of delicious Mongolian Beef, he gave his audiences a fortune cookie filled with blue whale turds.
Yes, The Mermaid broke all box office records in China, raking in close to $600million this past year, but this movie was terrible... In comparison, it would be like if the biggest comedy of all time in the US was Paul Blart - Mall Cop 2... The humor in this movie (when they bother to make any jokes) is godawfully not funny, and it is the most ham-fisted "protect the environment!" story that I've ever seen. Yes, it even puts Ferngully mixed with The Cove to shame in just how forced its message is.
Not that this is a bad thing... In fact, I find it absolutely amazing that China, of all nations, is embracing a story about saving animals and natural wonders. Honestly, this is a country that is so polluted that you literally can not see across the street in Beijing due to the smog on most days, and people just drop trou and shit on the sidewalk because THEY JUST DON'T GIVE A FUCK.
The fact that they made a movie whose main message is "Hey, this nature thing is good. We shouldn't destroy it anymore," the number one box office champion of all Chinese time blows my mind. If it gets them to stop pooing in the parks, I'm all for it... But that doesn't make this a better movie just because its forced moral is a good one.
What's it all about?
The Mermaid is all about how Stephen Chow forgot how to tell a story. But beyond that, it's all about super-billionaire Liu Xuan using super destructive sonar pods around a protected island in order to fucking slaughter all the dolphins and other sea life in the area so that he could buy the land and commercialize it, making even MORE billions!
But wait! There was a group of merfolk who lived around that island, and they were mostly killed or severely injured due to Xuan's hyper-sonar. And in retaliation, they get one of their own (a cute li'l mermaid named Shan) to dress up in a long skirt, and learn to walk on her fins in tennis shoes, and hopefully seduce Liu Xuan so that she could eventually MURDER him. Not the worst set up as far as goofy (wannabe) comedies go, but it's just sooooooooo predictable. I mean, look back to God of Cookery. There is NO WAY IN HELL you could have foreseen that ending coming, or any of the multiple sideways trips that movie took. The same with Kung Fu Hustle. Yeah, Shaolin Soccer was pretty predictable, but it was consistently funny the entire way through. The Mermaid only has a couple of jokes that are anything more than just a retread of guffaws from previous Stephen Chow movies.
Here's an example of a typical, already done joke in The Mermaid: In the opening scene, there's a shady man trying to pass off his awful Grunkle Stan's Mystery Shack-like tourist trap as an amazing freakshow... It was straight out of any of the early Chow movies where the main character is called out on his bullshit, but continues to try and sell the lie... Only it wasn't funny here. "That's not a dog with painted stripes on it, it's a tiger!" "But mister, it has a dog tag on it, and it's called 'Spot.'" BWA HA HA HA HA HA! Ugh. The Mermaid is nothing but an recycled, timid "comedy" with an awkward environmental message, and an over-the-top violent finale.
Oh man, yeah, that ending. Wow. So, the first 3/4ths of this movie play off as a rated "G" goofy, stupid movie about saving the merfolk's home. The merpeople do try to kill billionaire Xuan for destroying their world, but the brutality is only equal to a tame Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny cartoon. When a character smacks around the stone walls of a mansion on his jet pack, or gets shot with a poison-tipped spear-gun, it's all played off like they were never really even slightly injured... but then came the final act.
The last 20 minutes this thing turns into an onslaught of extreme violence, and this change of tone comes from out of nowhere! There's this mad, crazy, rich bitch who gets ignored by the billionaire for the mermaid the entire movie. She's mad with the world, and when she finds out that mermaids are real, she gets her scientist friend (the only white guy in this thing, a dude named George who believes in merfolk when nobody else in his field does) to lead a team of armed-to-the-teeth soldiers to raid the mermaids' lair. When they get to the merpeople's hideaway, the soldiers shoot the ever-living shit out of them in their underwater sanctuary, and then they proceed to hack, slash, and outright SLAY them when they jump out of the water in a dumb attempt to avoid the rain of bullets.
Shitty-looking CGI blood flows like a river in this scene. There was absolutely NO buildup to this insane mass murder. It'd be like if Elmer Fudd actually remembered to put real bullets in his gun, and quite vividly shot Bugs in the stomach near the end of the cartoon, and then Bugs started trying to limp away in fear, slipping on his own blood and spilled intestines as he sadly, and futilely tried to escape from his own mortality, only to receive a kill shot in the head by the relentless hunter just before the credits rolled.
They don't even try to explain this ultra-violent turn in the plot. The scientist who leads the charge to the mer-slaughter had been looking for mermaids in order to prove to the world that they were real his whole life! And now he just wants to cut them all into pieces? What the fuck did I miss? I actually went back to the scene when the rich bitch and the scientist found out about the merfolk, and I saw that they had a single throw-away line having to do something with "If we could harvest their DNA we'd have the most advanced bioengineering on the planet!..." But what? I mean, how does that lead to absolutely holocausting a mystical species in cold blood? And George, the scientist, is so gleeful when he and his men use butcher knives and meat cleavers to carve up the fish-peeps, just minutes after saying how much he wants to meet a live mermaid in person. What the bloody hell, Stephen Chow?
Now let me talk about the special effects in this thing. And by "special," I mean like "The Special Olympics." This thing was made for $60million dollars, but it looks cheaper than Sharknado 4. First of all, the all important merfolk effects are bad. Really bad. Bad like "a 14-year old got a hold of a free 3D modeling software package and tried to make himself some animated porn" bad. Nothing in the past 20 years of Hollywood can match just how cheap and cringe-worthy the computer graphics are in this movie. What gets me is that even the normal background CGI that Hollywood perfected over a decade ago is shitty in this flick. If I didn't know any better I would have guessed that this was a student film made by the kid last in his film class. It looks like no love was put into it, and the fish tails of the merfolk... Oh man. Just look at the image below.
There is no excuse for this. Especially from Stephen Chow who'd been working with CGI in his movies ever since at least Shaolin Soccer in 2001. This is amateur-hour here. How can you NOT make a mermaid sexy? You auditioned over 120,000 girls for the role, and you found a really cute one, and then you give her a slimy sea lion tail. Nooooo thank you. As a guy who grew up with a HUGE crush on Ariel, seeing Chow's digital abomination just made me die a little inside.
Was there anything good about it?
The only good things that I can think about in this movie were the two quick scenes that actually got a chuckle out of me: The time that the octopus man was hanging from the ceiling, and he turned away from the main mermaid in anger, then he slowly circles back to face her, then away again, then we see the fan he's hanging on has been turned on. I found that amusing.
And the police scene did actually make me laugh. This is when Xuan runs in to the police station to tell the cops that a mermaid just tried to kill him. They say, "A mermaid?" He says, "Yes! You know, half man, half fish!" And the policeman quickly draws a figure with the left half fish, and the right half man. Xuan yells at him, "No! Not left and right, top and bottom!" The policeman then draws a fish head on a pair of human legs with a dick dangling between them. Xuan says, "No! The human part is on top!" And so the policeman quickly turns the picture upside down... THAT shit was classic Chow, but it was the only bit of this 2 hour movie that reminded me of his apparently long-gone golden age.
What in the effin' hell did I just witness? Oh, China, that was just terrible. Is that really the best mermaid movie that you could muster? I mean, The Little Mermaid 2 was even better than this garbage. Your mermaid movie was like if somebody took my movie, made it have a baby with Mulan, and then took a diarhea dump all over it and called it a Picasso.
Honestly, this means war to me. China has disrespected "the mermaid." I think we should shut down Hong Kong Disneyland and start an embargo of all Disney merchandise.... Oh damn, that would never work. They'd just produce even more bootleg stuff. Damn it! You win this round, China.
Well this is a first! This is the first time that I can remember that I saw a movie with creatures that God seemed to dare me to recreate in my lab, but the movie in question was so bad that I didn't jump to super-science surgery or genetic manipulation to create my own version of the magical beasts in question solely because I wanted to get the movie and bad computer effects out of my mind as quickly as possible.
This may call for self-induced electro-shock therapy.
If you don't hear from me in a week, I probably died due to brain electrocution, and am happier for it, knowing I'll never have to think about this bad movie ever again.