[Local police attempt to identify the perp.]
MEI REN YU (THE MERMAID) is one of the best Comedies I’ve seen in a while and is a serious contender for my top films of 2016. Chinese comedy director Steven Chow (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle) is rare breed of artist who actually directs comedically. His use of the frame, of motion, and in perfectly landing beats in the edit are flawless to a degree of mastery that is rivaled only by Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. But nobody does slapstick like Chow. He layers visual gags over understated banter, often leading with expectations for one hilarious payoff, only to veer into something even funnier.
The film is about the mermaid Shan, who is “highly trained” and sent on a mission by her people to be the “honey trap” in the assassination of a wealthy ocean polluter. Instead, she falls into an unlikely romance and hilarity ensues. This may be one of the greatest premises for a Comedy of all time, and Chow doesn’t squander it.
Despite the film’s silliness, the real life destruction of our planet is treated with all the seriousness it deserves. Moments of hilarity are played expertly against moments of sheer gravity, and it’s hard to imagine Chow failing to shape the views of at least a few of the elite contributing to China’s egregious pollution problem. Similarly, the romance, though played for laughs, feels both meaningful and plausible. Character motivations never seem unreasonable or inconsistent, despite the slapstick mayhem.
As an English speaker it’s hard to judge performances entirely in Mandarin, but all the actors were enjoyable to watch and seemed to fare well bouncing between madcap caricatures and people dealing with earnest issues. I did see the film in Toronto, with a theater packed with Mandarin speakers, and they seemed to be having a great time (and laughing at more of the jokes than I understood).
MEI REN YU gets comedy right. You owe it to yourself and to the international filmmaking community to go see it as soon as possible! Take your mom, a date… or your goldfish. Good times to be had by all!
3D Recommendation: The film uses the format well with some very funny use of the extra dimensionality, but the conversion is rough around the edges. There is enough harsh placement of objects and not-quite-right angles that it may be difficult to watch for more sensitive viewers.