Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Mermaid

So, I've learned my lesson about these things which are either already big hits in China or likely to be such that play here: Rather than showing up at Boston Common and finding it sold out, I checked Fandango before leaving work on Friday, saw that it was sold out, and purchased a ticket for Saturday night's show nearly twenty-four hours in advance. When I got out of my first movie at that location, I felt kind of good seeing that the show I already had tickets to had sold out.

They wound up putting several other shows on both nights, at least in one case apparently at the direct expense of something else that could maybe have used a boost (the screen where I had seen Touched with Fire wound up being an extra one for The Mermaid). I almost feel like I'm starting to get the hang of how these movies that go almost unnoticed by the larger audience attract the heck out of their niche (Chinese-Americans, expatriates, Chinese students) and being able to deal with it as an outsider who is nevertheless a fan.

It does seem like I'm seeing a little more about how America ignores these big hits that originate outside its borders with The Mermaid than some other things. Part of it just may be that it's good - the stories of the massive amounts of money that are coming in during the Chinese New Year season also mention The Monkey King 2 and From Vegas to Macau III, but those are pretty bad, and last year's Monster Hunt not exactly great either (though Lost in Hong Kong probably deserved more attention than it got).

Of course, the fact that this is the new Stephen Chow movie makes it a bit more of an interesting case - as I mentioned in the review, once Miramax was finished jerking Shaolin Soccer around and put it in theaters, Chow's next two movies got regular releases here, and there was a bit of intrigue about him as he was talked about for both The Karate Kid and The Green Hornet. It does show the weird way that Chinese cinema in America has changed over the past decade, though - ten years ago, Sony Pictures Classics could get something like Kung Fu Hustle into American theaters and people would discover it, subtitles and all, although the path could be kind of indirect. Now, it makes its way here just a week and a half after its opening in China, but the chances of it expanding to a broader audience are almost nil. On the other hand, certain theaters will grab it because they can target a specific audience and have them come out in pretty impressive numbers. It speaks to some weird, seemingly-contradictory forces at work in the exhibition business. It's not that contradictory - cinemas are giving audiences what they know they want, whether it be very predictable material for the general audience or something that would have been considered risky before where they know there's a niche.

I've got mixed feelings about this. When I tell the folks at work what I saw this weekend, one or two might be intrigued that there's something new from the maker of Shaolin Soccer in theaters, but so many will likely not even have the chance to give it a second thought.

Mei Ren Yu (The Mermaid)

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 20 February 2016 in AMC Boston Common #14 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

About ten years ago, Stephen Chow Sing-chi was briefly kind of popular in the States when the writer/director/star's quick one-two punch of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, followed by CJ7, had pretty good theatrical runs for foreign films; since then he passed on making an English-language debut and moved entirely behind the camera. It's made him invisible here, but his work is still tremendously popular in China and Hong Kong, with his new one The Mermaid breaking box-office records and, thankfully, proving to be one of the funniest things playing theaters anywhere on the planet right now.

It starts out with a montage of ways humanity is harming the environment, moving to an auction for Green Gulf, won by billionaire Liu Xuan (Deng Chao), who allies himself with competitor Li Ruolan (Kitty Zhang Yuqi) to reclaim and develop the protected dolphin sanctuary. The celebratory party is crashed by pretty goofball Shan ("Jelly" Lin Yun), dressed as a mermaid the way most of the girls there are, who manages to give Liu her number before being escorted out and sent home. The surprise is that she actually is a mermaid, and her people, led by Octopus (Luo Show), intend the kind-hearted Shan to be a honey trap so that they can kill Liu.

The movie sounds like "Splash, but with more murder", and that's actually a good sign; it shows that, despite following many other Hong Kong filmmakers north to make Mandarin-language movies in China proper, he's maintained the same sort of broad, bawdy sense of humor that made his other movies live-action cartoons. The film is full of off-color jokes that jump further past innuendo than many of the other Chinese movies which have reached America recently, and the slapstick is the kind of thing that would be kind of horrible if it were the least bit believable. It's a deeply silly film despite its earnest environmental message.

Full review on EFC.

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