The Mermaid (2016 film)

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The Mermaid
Mermaid 2016 film poster.jpg
DVD cover
Mandarin Měi rén yú
Cantonese mei5 jan4 jyu4
Directed by Stephen Chow
Produced by Stephen Chow
La Peikang
Yang Wei
Wang Changtian
Yang Zhenhua
Cao Pu
Liu Yang
Wei Jie
Cai Dongqing[1]
Screenplay by Stephen Chow
Kelvin Lee
Ho Miu-kei
Lu Zhengyu
Fung Chih-chiang
Ivy Kong
Chan Hing-ka
Tsang Kan-cheung
Starring
Music by Raymond Wong
Edited by Cheung Ka-fai
Cheng Man-to
Production
company
China Film Group
Edko Films
The Star Overseas
Hehe (Shanghai) Pictures Co.,Ltd
Beijing Enlight Pictures
Shanghai New Culture Media Group Co.,Ltd
Alibaba Pictures Group Limited
Shanghai Tianshi Media Co.,Ltd
BinGo Group Co.,Ltd
Distributed by Beijing Enlight Pictures
China Film Group Corporation
Release date
  • 8 February 2016 (2016-02-08)
Running time
94 minutes[2]
Country China
Hong Kong
Language Mandarin[3][4]
Budget US$60.72 million[5]
Box office US$553,810,228[6][7]

The Mermaid (Chinese: 美人鱼/美人魚) is a 2016 Chinese–Hong Kong fantasy romantic comedy directed, co-written, and co-produced by Stephen Chow.[8]

The film tells the story of a playboy businessman (Deng Chao) who falls in love with a mermaid (Lin Yun) who was sent to assassinate him.[9][10][11]

It was released in China on 8 February 2016. It broke numerous box office records, including biggest opening day and biggest single day gross through its seventh day of release, as well as having the biggest opening week of all time in China. It is the fourth-highest-grossing film of all time in China.

Plot[edit]

Playboy business tycoon Liu Xuan (刘轩, played by Deng Chao) purchases the Green Gulf, a wildlife reserve, for a sea reclamation project, and uses sonar technology to get rid of the sea life in the area. Unknown to him, the Green Gulf is the home of merpeople and the sonar (in addition to heavy pollution) has caused many of them to die or get sick. The few survivors live in an abandoned shipwreck in the gulf, and want to assassinate Xuan for his deeds. The merfolk send Shan (珊, played by Lin Yun), a beautiful young mermaid, who has been trained to walk and dance on her fins and hide among humans, to seduce and kill Xuan. At an extravagant party celebrating Xuan's success, Shan, pretending to be a dancer, gives him her telephone number and asks him to call her.

Xuan, believing that Shan is a prostitute, calls her number in order to make his female business partner, Ruolan, jealous. Shan tries to kill Xuan, but all her attempts backfire. In the end, Xuan decides to take Shan back home, and along the way Shan takes him to a funfair where she works. While there, Shan tries to show Xuan there are more important things than money, and Xuan is impressed with Shan's simple, amusing antics. They spend the day together and develop feelings for each other. When Xuan finally takes Shan home, Shan quickly sends Xuan away before her people can kill him. The next day, Xuan takes Shan for another date and proposes, saying that he is lonely. Xuan admits that even though they only met the day before, he already knows that she is the one for him. Shan, in a bit of shock and confusion, rejects him and admits that she was sent there to kill him. Xuan kisses her, but the kiss is interrupted by Ruolan. As Shan runs out, Ruolan stops Xuan from following her. Xuan gets angry and tells Ruolan to cancel their business deal.

That night, as Shan gets into an argument with the other merpeople, Xuan goes to Shan's house to talk to her. There, he discovers that she and her family are merpeople. Against Shan's wishes, the others capture Xuan and explain that he is killing them with his development project. Xuan is about to be killed when Shan helps him escape. Octopus, one of Shan's friend, gets mad and ask her if she has fallen in love with Xuan. She refuses to answer and goes on crying. Xuan returns home and, after the shock has worn off, decides to investigate the consequences of his project. He turns off the sonar but mistakenly tells Ruolan that Shan is a mermaid and reveals where the other merpeople live. Ruolan tells Xuan that George, her henchman, also believes in mermaids and has been trying to find one. She also gets angry at Xuan for not returning her affections and vows to kill Shan. Xuan tries to stop them but they dismiss him and proceed to the abandoned ship. The merpeople are attacked by Ruolan's mercenaries, and many of them are killed. Soon enough, the merpeople realize that the sonar had been turned off and return to the ocean. Shan gets shot and chased as she tries to escape them. Xuan, using a jetpack, arrives in time to retrieve a badly-injured Shan. As he is carrying her to the ocean, Ruolan angrily shoots him three times. George stops her before she could shoot him again. Shan insists that Xuan leave her, but he continues to carry her to safety. While Ruolan and George get arrested, Xuan collapses from his wounds.

Three years later, a student arrives at Xuan's home to thank him for setting up a scholarship for research into environmental protection. The student asks Xuan whether merpeople are real and if the story that he fell in love with a mermaid is true, but Xuan denies it. Xuan then introduces the student to his wife, "Lucy", who is actually Shan in a human disguise. Xuan tells the student to not believe in fairytales and myths. The screen then goes to Xuan and Shan swimming in the ocean along with the other merpeople.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The Mermaid was filmed from October 2014 to February 2015 in three locations in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Dongguan, and then later in Beijing with the budget of US$60.72 million. Before the filming, confirmed cast members include Deng Chao, Show Lo, Zhang Yuqi, and newcomer Lin Yun was from a talent contest held specifically for The Mermaid in Shenzhen.[12]

Casting the male lead and the villain[edit]

Stephen Chow picked Deng Chao to play the film's lead male character Liu Xuan, even though Show Lo (who played Octopus in the film, and had previously worked with Chow in Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons) was also in the consideration. Chow explained that he ultimately chose Deng Chao for the lead role due to his overwhelming popularity in China, and he also had confidence in Deng's comedic talent, having observed his performances in the slapstick-style hit The Breakup Guru.[12]

Zhang Yuqi first worked with Chow in CJ7 and gained fame from that role. They both later fell out in a highly publicized contractual dispute.[12] But the personal relationship between them was not intense and Zhang once defended Chow when he was under personality attacks from former disgruntled collaborators and employees. When Zhang got a call from Chow, she was in a foreign country while her car broke down. She said yes to join the cast to play the film's villain, and described the role as a personal challenge.

Finding the "Mermaid"[edit]

The selection of the female lead character, the "Mermaid" Shan, was one of the most publicized parts of the filming process. As reported on Oriental Daily News, the then 18-year-old actress Lin Yun was selected by Chow and his casting team from over 120,000 participants due to her demure personality in a talent contest held in Shenzhen. Reportedly, throughout the 13 casting-training period, Lin Yun caught the casting team's eyes for being calm and collected while other participants tried their hardest to steal the spotlight. According to Lin Yun, she entered the audition at her friends' recommendation, and has always admired Stephen Chow.[13]

The mass audition was from 31 July – 15 August 2014 when everyone can submit the CVs to the website for online votes and for the casting team to choose. A total of 43 contestants were selected after the first round, and then would be shortlisted to 13 finalists to participate in the final contest held on 15 September 2014.[14] Among them, six were chosen to continue in the audition process.[15] Lin Yun eventually won the role of the film.

Inspirations[edit]

The story was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of "The Little Mermaid" in which a mermaid loves a human, but Chow wanted to make it a modern interpretation: "I saw great creative space and development potential from the story".[16][17] In another interview, Chow said: "I'm actually a big fairy-tale addict. All my previous titles can be understood as fairy tales. In the world of fairy tales, the evil are punished and the good see a happy ending. I buy the idea." [18]

Another inspiration comes from Chow's own childhood experience. "I lived by sea at my young age and I looked at the sea everyday, thinking what are in there? I was frightened and curious. I was very nervous when I swam in the sea anytime and felt there would be something hid underneath. I was fascinated with the (mermaid) story since then, and I felt I could do the film 6 years ago and started writing the script four or five years ago."[19]

Filming[edit]

The Mermaid filming and production was in well-kept secret. A major set was built up in a big empty factory, which was once for glass production, in Shenzhen as the shelter of mermaids in the film.[20] Reports say that most of the scenes in his latest film have been shot more than 50 times to meet his exacting standards. Chow has even personally coached most of the cast on acting-from lead stars Deng, Zhang Yuqi and Lin Yun to Show Lo,[18] as well as other cast members. To get the best result, Chow once let Deng Chao and Lin Yun eat 150 roasted chickens for shooting a scene.[19] Lin Yun said Chow has never shouted at her and would often watch out for her. Playing the role of a mermaid, Lin often had to put on the safety harness when filming her underwater scenes. As she was not used to it, she often incurred injuries all over her body, and on one occasion, Yun nearly became disfigured.[21]

The film wrapped up filming in Beijing on 2 February 2015,[20] and then went into post-production, adding visual effects by Ken Law and his Different Digital Design Ltd., as well as by MACROGRAPH,Ltd. from South Korea, both of which worked for Chow's previous film Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons.[22][23]

Notable cameos[edit]

Directors Tsui Hark and Stephen Chow worked together for the first time in The Mermaid. The two film directors had never worked together during their careers, despite each spanning three decades. Tsui Hark said they have discussed collaboration for years but Chow was so busy that Tsui had to wait until now. At a press conference in Beijing to promote The Mermaid, it was revealed that director Tsui Hark and actor Kris Wu have cameo appearances in the film.[24][25]

Other notable cameos include actor Wen Zhang, who was in Chow's previous blockbuster Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, and the comedian duo Kong Lianshun and Bai Ke (White. K) from the popular web series Surprise, and the 2015 fantasy comedy film Surprise.

Promotion[edit]

Stephen Chow was on a 20-city tour in China to promote The Mermaid, including many fan meetings. Nine companies, including China Film Group, Hehe (Shanghai) Pictures and Enlight Media, invested in the production, while four companies, Star Overseas, Hehe Pictures, Maxtimes Culture, and Union (Beijing) Pictures collaborated in terms of marketing and promotion.[26]

On 24 May 2016, Stephen Chow, Deng Chao and Lin Yun joined Chinese government ministers in Wellington for a screening of The Mermaid as the opening of the "New Zealand China Film Week" at New Zealand's national museum to bring cultural exchange between the film-making communities China and New Zealand.[27]

Trailers and "hunger marketing"[edit]

The Mermaid had released just three trailers before the movie's debut. In the first trailer, the tycoon, played by Deng Chao, tells police that he has met and been kidnapped by a mermaid. In its final 90-second trailer released on 31 January 2016, it shows the love story between Liu Xuan and Shan, the two lead characters, as well as large-scale killing and hunting for mermaids. An interesting twist and an historical link was seen in the second trailer, where there is a clue hinting at legendary Chinese mariner Zheng He's voyages in the 15th century.[18] But much of the storyline was kept in secret and the trailers didn't reveal too much as the marketing team held the belief to make the trailers "less amazing than the actual movie", in order to lower the already too high expectation, then when audiences eventually saw the film, they would be "surprised".[28]

Chow also adopted "hunger marketing" this time to maintain high secrecy and mystery by not letting anyone, including theater managers and film critics, see the film in advance at any premieres until it actually opened in theaters.[26]

Theme song[edit]

The theme song of The Mermaid is titled "Invincible". The song was written and composed by Stephen Chow and performed by Deng Chao. Film score composer Raymond Wong (Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle, CJ7 and Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons) made the arrangement, while the music producer Patrick Tsang (who produced records of Faye Wong, Eason Chan and more) mixed it. In the song, the lyrics goes like, "Being invincible is so so lonely / Being invincible is so so empty / When I'm alone at the peak, cold wind constantly blows / My loneliness - who can understand?"[29] The song also has a music video in which Deng Chao sings in studio while Stephen Chow, Kris Wu (also playfully lip-synch perform), Lin Yun are all there appearing to sing the song too, but their vocals are never heard as there is only one vocal track by Deng.[30]

Second music video[edit]

Adam Cheng, Lin Yun, Stephen Chow and Karen Mok appeared at a press conference in Beijing on 18 January 2016, to release the promotional song "You Are the Best in the World" for the film. The song is Cheng and Mok's cover of the popular old song from the 1983 TV series "The Legend of the Condor Heroes." The music video of "You Are the Best in the World" shows a duet by Adam Cheng and Karen Mok with Stephen Chow adding background vocals.[31]

Finance[edit]

A rumored deal of a two billion yuan box office guarantee was widely reported by the media. The deal would enable Chow and the film's producers to receive a huge chunk of advance income before box office grosses actually hit two billion yuan in China. If the gross eventually surpasses that figure, the distributors will take priority in collecting dividends.[32] Yang Wei, Chairwoman of Hehe Pictures, "admitted there was such deal but she would not reveal the exact number since the details were covered by a secrecy clause in the agreement."[26]

The "box office guarantee model" has existed for more than a decade now in the Chinese film industry. Chow's last film Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, along with many other recent blockbuster comedies such as Breakup Buddies also used this kind of approach. It is said "The model offers not only risk control, securing the production party's interests, but also gives distributors priority in financing blockbusters-to-be, as well as showing their confidence in the films' future box office performance."[32]

"I can confirm Hehe Pictures is the principal party of the deal and paid all the box office guarantees," Yang said.[26]

Milestone posters[edit]

As The Mermaid has become the highest-grossing film in China, a new poster was released to mark the milestone.[33]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Buoyed by anticipation from fans as well as having the advantage of opening a day after the Chinese New Year, The Mermaid recorded an opening day record of US$40.9 million, which is the biggest opening day for a Chinese film and the second biggest of all time there only behind the opening day of Furious 7.[34][35] US$1 million came from midnight screenings.[36] It set a new record for the fastest film to earn CN¥1 billion (US$152.4 million), doing so in just 4 days of release,[37][38] and also recorded the largest 5-days gross (US$187.3 million).[39] Through its seven-day opening week, it grossed a total of $275.1 million, breaking records for the biggest seven-day gross and the biggest-opening week of all time in China (breaking Furious 7's record),[40] and the third biggest of all time, behind Hollywood films Star Wars: The Force Awakens (US$390.8 million) and Jurassic World (US$296.2 million).[41] It grossed US$120.4 million alone for the three-day opening weekend (Friday to Sunday), which is the biggest of all time in China and the second biggest three-day gross behind Furious 7's Saturday to Monday gross.[42] This along with From Vegas to Macau III (US$119 million) and The Monkey King 2 (US$116 million) helped Chinese box office break the Guinness World Record for the biggest box office week with $548 million from 8 – 14 February 2016.[40] The previous record was set during the week of 26 December 2015 – 1 January 2016 when Star Wars: The Force Awakens led the box office with US$261 million and the box office that week totalled US$529.6 million.[40] And the previous biggest Chinese box office week was set in July 2015 when Monster Hunt, Pancake Man, and Monkey King: Hero is Back, combined for a then total US$253 million during their first week.[43] On 19 February – 12 days after release – the film became the highest-grossing film in China with CN¥2.45 billion, overtaking the previous record holder, Furious 7.[44][45][46][47][48][49] In its second weekend, it fell precipitously by 53% to US$55.9 million from 155,704 screenings for a 14-day total of US$419.2 million.[50] On 26 February, it was announced that The Mermaid has grossed 3 billion yuan (US$459 million) on its 19th day since release on Chinese mainland. It is the first film ever to launch the 3-billion-yuan club in China's film industry and set a new milestone.[51] On 5 March, it became the first film to gross over US$500 million in China[52] and the seventh overall in a single territory.[53] To date, The Mermaid has grossed 3.39 billion yuan (US$525 million) in China,[54] and due to its success, its theatrical release in China has also been extended to June 2016.[55]

The film also found success outside of China; it scored the biggest opening day of all time for a Chinese film in Malaysia ($838,000) and Singapore ($528,000).[49] It also opened at No. 1 in Malaysia with US$3.8 million (ahead of Deadpool) and in Vietnam with US$2 million. In Singapore, it debuted at No. 2 with US$1.6 million.[56] In Hong Kong, The Mermaid broke the local opening day record with HK$4.96 million (US$638,352), surpassing the previous record holder Kung Fu Hustle (HK$4.42 million) which was also directed by Chow.[57][58] As of 3 April, it has grossed a total of US$7.69 million there.[59]

It was released by Sony Pictures in a limited release in the United States on 19 February across 35 theaters.[60] It grossed $985,000 on its opening weekend – at an average of $28,144 per theater – making it the biggest opening weekend for a limited release Chinese-language film.[61]

However, Apple Daily reported that Taiwan won't be releasing The Mermaid.[62][63] Taiwanese quota regulations permit only ten Chinese mainland films to be released in Taiwan every year.[64][65] The mainland movies must draw lots and only those with numbers 1–10 get permission—The Mermaid drew #44. This was the first time that Taiwan audiences missed a Stephen Chow's film, and there were protests from fans against Taiwan's cultural ministry.[66]

Critical response[edit]

Response to the film has been generally positive. It has a 93% score on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 critic reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The Mermaid requires a willingness to embrace the strange, but backs up its wacky flights of fancy with a big-hearted fairy tale and a resonant message."[67] It has a 69% score on Metacritic.[68]

Glenn Kenny of The New York Times says The Mermaid is "no ordinary fantastical rom-com…encompassing as it does weaponized sea urchins, incredibly delicious roasted chickens, man-octopus self-mutilation and other comic oddities."[69] Bilge Ebiri of New York Magazine praises the film as it's "amazing how distinctive and strange Mermaid manages to be, especially given the highly derivative concept - how personal it feels, amid all the absurdist, go-for-broke humor. It deserves to be seen."[70] Dylan Kickham of Entertainment Weekly thinks the film is "at its best when it embraces the ridiculous, no-holds-barred, farcical comedy that Chow has become known for, thanks to films like Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer. From the start, and throughout the middle of the movie, Chow and his actors present a full-force farce."[71] Simon Abrams of RogerEbert.com says "It doesn't matter if you don't like subtitles. It doesn't matter if you've never heard of the director. It doesn't matter if you've never seen a Chinese movie in your life. It will make you laugh. Guaranteed."[72] South China Morning Post's film critic Ben Sin gave the film three out of five stars and describes it as "a solid dramedy with heart and, more importantly, a message", though he opines that this being the second film from Chow where he remains behind the camera, it "has to be disappointing to Hongkongers".[9] James Marsh of Screen International says actress Lin "brings a delightfully quirky demeanour to her literal fish out of water" and "the occasionally hokey CGI only adds to the film’s oddball charm."[3] Zhang Rui of China.org.cn says "The film has a simple and strong message to deliver: Love can transcend race and other barriers. You could hardly expect to see such a pure fairy tale and such a clean theme in blockbusters for a long time, but Chow has done it with a pure and childlike heart."[73] Elizabeth Kerr of The Hollywood Reporter says "the fantastical Mermaid delivers its message without a shred of subtlety (and is unapologetic about it) but with considerable charm, wit and darkness to make up for it."[1] Wei Xi of Global Times is more critical, and calls it lacklustre in comparison with Chow's previous Journey to the West.[74] MovieXclusive.com gave the film four out of five stars and says the film "is a complete package – a stellar cast which delivers fun performances, a decent story about environmentalism, and most importantly: a barrelful of laughs guaranteed to entertain the whole family."[75]

Awards and nominations[edit]

List of awards and nominations
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
12th Chinese American Film Festival 2016 Golden Angel Award Film The Mermaid Won [76]
Best Newcomer Lin Yun Won
Asian Film Awards 21 March 2017 Best Newcomer Nominated [77]
Saturn Awards 28 June 2017 Best International Film The Mermaid Nominated [78]
Hong Kong Film Awards 9 April 2017 Best Film Stephen Chow Nominated [79]
Best Director Stephen Chow Nominated
Best Screenplay Stephen Chow Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Zhang Yuqi Nominated
Best New Performer Lin Yun Nominated
Best Art Direction Chan Kam Ho Raymond Nominated
Best Original Film Song Composer and Lyricist: Stephen Chow
Performer: Deng Chao
(For the song "Invincible")
Nominated
Best Visual Effects Ken Law
Lee In-ho
Kang Tae-gyun
Marco Ng
Nominated

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External links[edit]