San Diego Asian Film Festival presents ‘The Mermaid’: Thinking with your Hectocotylus

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Reviewed by Alicia Glass

Director: Stephen Chow

Studio: Alpha Pictures

Review Rating: 8 out of 10

A hidden mermaid is sent to assassinate the rich developer planning on destroying her ecosystem, but instead manages to fall for him!

This film is absolutely adorkable and I can’t say enough good things about it. The traditional premise of the well-known Little Mermaid story is given a modern Chinese slant from director Stephen Chow, famous for fun films like Kung Fu Hustle. His cheeky slapstick humor with the sly fish-scale edge and the well-known Asian taste for seafood gives the film a veneer of roe humor we all need rather desperately right now. Because you know, the taste and smell of fish can overpower practically anything, including bullshit!

So Liu Xuan (Chao Deng) is a very wealthy businessman, or at least he tries very hard to be. Money he has in abundance, but apparently even that can’t buy the respect of his fellow richers, for he’s rather constantly reminded of his common roots, and how he had to create himself out of practically nothing, rather than being born into money. Shan (Yun Lin), the most lithe of the underground merfolk, has been practicing her human walk, and is sent on a mission to assassinate Xuan just as soon as it becomes apparent that he’s planning on purchasing the Green Gulf, where her merpeople live. For the purposes of a sea reclamation project and using sonar technology, which of course damages the merfolk something awful, Xuan generally thinks only of money and how to get more of it, until Shan drops a honeypot trap on him.

But no-one, especially not Shan herself, expected Xuan to turn out to actually be somewhat of a good guy, one who can actually relax and enjoy seeing a pretty girl go nuts on her whole-chicken entrée in a park. Shan never expected to care for Xuan, or he for her (since he thinks she’s little more than a hooker sent to tempt him), and not even the rival richer Li Ruolan (Yuqi Zhang), who keeps trying to seduce or undermine or both Xuan, can dissuade him from pursuing Shan with a fervor.

Of course Octopus (Show Lo) himself wants Shan, and causes all kinds of troubles when he departs Green Gulf to come try and aid Shan on her mission. And by “aid”, I mean Octopus laughingly tries to keep Shan from falling in love with Xuan, keep himself from being made into sashimi by Xuan’s men, and in general, Octopus is way more of a hilarious nuisance than he is any kind of help. But he’s thinking with his … *ahem* hectocotylus instead of his head, so there you go.

Along with being extremely funny and not always in a slapstick-y way, The Mermaid has gorgeous visuals, mostly of merfolk tails, and high-flying acrobatic performances that actually make perfect sense for the confines of the story. Chow reminds us that humanity is quite capable of acting monstrous without any outside help, thank you very much. The story itself remembers that no matter how rich and untouchable you might think you are, your actions can have far-reaching and unexpected consequences, and no matter how high (or low-down) you get, to always remember the people, not-quite-people, and even the occasional monster that got you there.

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