Film

Stephen Chow’s ‘The Mermaid’ Returns — And Still Confounds

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The highest-grossing film in Chinese history is a literal fish-out-of-water tale in the classical mold, starring Jelly Lin as a mermaid whose survival instinct has compelled her to walk upright and blend in with the landlubbers.

Shanshan’s pod plans to use this physical anomaly (and her striking looks) to seduce the real estate magnate who’s purchased the coastal area they secretly call home. Once she’s lured him back to their submerged lair, Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) is meant to sleep with the fishes. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mermaids and men.

Shanshan’s naïve innocence first infuriates, then inspires her mark — in the movies, all it ever takes to hip an out-of-touch rich dude to the error of his ways is a beautiful young woman, and this trillionaire tycoon is no different. Neither is The Mermaid: You’ve already seen most of what Chow and his seven(!) co-screenwriters have crafted, and you’ve usually seen it done with greater coherence.

Your mileage may vary when it comes to Chow’s slapstick humor, which here centers on outsiders’ bafflement in the face of mer-powers.  Still, one genuinely funny moment emerges: After Liu Xuan tells a police officer that he was kidnapped by a “half-person, half-fish,” the dunderheaded cop quickly sketches a figure with the left half of a human and the right half of a fish to confirm the creature in question. It’s a good sight gag, and Chow carries it out to “Who’s on First?” levels of confusion. That broad comedy eventually gives way to heavy-handed speechifying and graphic mermaid-slaying, little of which actually makes sense.

The Mermaid
Directed by Stephen Chow

Sony Pictures

Opens July 8, Metrograph