(Mei Ren Yu)
Stephen Chows early directorial films are works of comic genius, something that reached an absolute peak with Kung Fu Hustle. The funny thing about Chow is that at exactly the same time as his films go from being funny and very creative works of slapstick and moving over into mainstream success with Chinese-speaking audiences, they also start to lose much of the creativity that drove them. CJ7 was amiable but no great shakes, while both Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and now The Mermaid feel peculiarly colourless works where much of Chows comic genius seems buried beneath the machinery of big-budget filmmaking.
With The Mermaid, Stephen Chow seems to want to dig a knife in and expose the soullessness of Chinas new wealth. (Although the characters here are so broad that they verge on being more like the caricatures of comic villains that you get in childrens films). The mermaids represent what you take to be a vague environmentalist concern. The film doesnt appear to take either position too seriously. In the midst of this, we get a romance that sort of makes this into a Chinese version of Splash! (1984). That said, the central relationship between the two characters is one that seems to have no real chemistry on screen beyond the plots comedic contrivations. Deng Chao seems such a ridiculous caricature of self-absorbed chumpishness that you wonder how he could have any success in the business arena, while Jelly Lin has the cute schoolgirl/waif thing that much of HK/Chinese cinema loves going, albeit pushed to a maximum gaucheness. Beyond one or two montage scenes of them at a fairground, this is not exactly a romance that burns up the screen.
Furthermore, Stephen Chows flair for comedy feels watered down. Some of the films few funny moments are those that involve Show Lo as Octopus he trying to deal with Deng Laos security guards who see his tentacles while he is hiding in the bushes and the rather funny scene where he tries to impersonate a sushi chef and is forced to cut off and cook his own tentacles. Other scenes like where Jelly Lin invades Deng Chaos apartment trying to kill him, only to end up on the receiving end of most of the methods she tries to use seems fitfully amusing, leaving you only thinking how much this lacks the brilliance of Chow during his heyday. Itd be nice if Chow could put a halt to the machinery of big-budget filmmaking and go back to discover what he once had, which was hilarious and madly creative.