'The Mermaid' - Movie Review

I keep watching Stephen Chow movies because, many years ago, he directed, co-wrote, and starred in "Shaolin Soccer" - which I still think is hysterically funny. It's incredibly uneven - Chow throws a lot of stuff at it that doesn't stick - but the scenes combining soccer and martial arts parody are brilliant. But I've never found another Chow movie that I liked: most recently, I really disliked "Journey to the West." I suppose I also keep watching because the critics usually love him: "Journey to the West" got 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, and "The Mermaid" got 93%.

"The Mermaid" sees the young woman Shan (Lin Yun) on a mission to kill obnoxious playboy businessman Liu Xuan: he's just bought a large wildlife preserve and has used a form of sonar to drive all the wildlife out. Shan is a mermaid, and she and her kind of been made very sick or dead by the sonar. Shan isn't particularly skilled at killing, and her attempts are played for comedy. As are Xuan's flirtations with his business partner Ruolan (Zhang Yuqi) and his general shallowness. The movie goes decidedly dark in the middle section when a number of people go on a mermaid hunt.

My problem with Chow's humour is that he wouldn't know subtlety if it hit him in the head with a sledgehammer. He doesn't write characters, only caricatures. He's fantastically scattershot in his humour: try anything, if the audience laughs, great - don't worry about the dozens of misfires bleeding out on the floor. And then there's the violence. The closest Hollywood relative to Chow's humour that I can think of is "Airplane" - also not a favourite of mine. It was dumb and over-the-top, but never malicious. In "Journey to the West," Chow thought he'd struck comedic gold having a little girl laugh long and loud as her father thrashes in the water, being torn apart, bleeding out, and dying. In this one he has a merman who has octopus tentacles have to endure his tentacles being treated as sushi while still attached, pounded, chopped, fried, and ground while he makes funny faces. If that's your kind of humour, more power to you.

Yup, there may be some hypocrisy here: I enjoy horror comedies. I guess the distinction is that you know what you're signing up for.