Director: Stephen Chow
Stars: Lin Yun, Deng Chao
4 (out of 5) Globes
If you’re an American, there’s a good chance you haven’t even heard of the second highest grossing new movie of 2016. You almost certainly have zero idea there’s a blockbuster that’s bagged nearly half a billion dollars in two weekends — just a few inches away from “Deadpool”’s haul. And yet this secret movie might even be playing at a theater near you. This weekend Sony quietly — just shy of silently — slipped into Stateside theaters “The Mermaid,” the latest CGI-heavy eyesore from Stephen Chow. In his native China, Chow is a mega-duper-superstar; in America he’s more a cult figure, but one who can still command the box office, thanks to “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle,” the latter the highest grossing foreign language film released here in 2005.
And yet, as rogerebert.com’s Simon Abrams dutifully reported, “The Mermaid” was so undervalued some Sony reps hadn’t even heard of it. The one that had simply felt no one apart from East Asian transplants may want to see it. This weekend, with no serious advertising and little-to-no reviews, Chow’s film scared up $1 million from 35 theaters — pretty impressive for a film spirited into theaters, but barely a blip in its worldwide take.
The doubting Sony rep sort of, in a way, kind of, not really had a point: “The Mermaid” is pretty weird. It doesn’t have the immediate hook of “Kung Fu Hustle,” which at least had kung fu. It isn’t even sellable a la Chow’s 2008 dramatic fantasy “CJ7,” which boasted a super adorable alien creature a la “E.T.” “The Mermaid” isn’t so easily synopsized. Here, we have a twist on “Splash” but with machine guns, jetpacks and an octopus dude making sashimi with his own tentacles. It’s a romantic comedy melded with an eco-message melded with a sometime action film that’s also, once or twice, a musical, and with subtitles. For American audiences so used to endless comic book movies they can’t even bother with an old school biopic about Jesse Owens released in the middle of Black History Month, it’s a tough sell.