While American audiences giggle at Deadpool’s naughty jokes, over in China, movie fans are enjoying a very different kind of flim: a combination of comedy, musical, love story, and cautionary environmental tale called The Mermaid.
The quirky film by Stephen Chow is now being screened in 33 American theaters, opening on February 19, Entertainment Weekly reported.
The Mermaid has been such a massive blockbuster that it has shattered a briefly-held record by Star Wars: The Force Awakens and done so in short order. According to the Washington Post, The Mermaid earned $267.7 million in the first seven days after it opened on February 8 and earned $548 million in ticket sales for China.
On its premiere day, The Mermaid earned a whopping $40.7 million; Deadpool earned $47.3 million but has since slowed in comparison to the strange Chinese tale. In the R-rated superhero movie’s first five days, it earned $163.8 million — small potatoes in comparison.
So what exactly is so fascinating about The Mermaid? According to Shanghaiist, an American review of the film called it “very, very funny” as it rips into China’s new rich and provides a “despairing look” at how the country’s environment has been destroyed. The film switches between humor and romance and environmental lessons but still “deserves to be seen.”
The Mermaid features a brand of humor Chow is known for and the Chinese absolutely love, called mo lei tau. This loosely translates as “nonsensical” comedy, a Hong Kong style of humor that is meant to be “irreverent, idiosyncratic and ridiculous.”
The film features a billionaire playboy called Liu Xuan, a property developer who loves fast cars, has a caterpillar mustache, and wants to take over the world. Along with a business associated named Ruolan, he decides to obtain land off the coast and turn sea sludge into gold, but first, he must kill every living thing in the water.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, a beautiful mermaid plots with her merpeople and a creature named Octopus to seduce and then kill the billionaire and, therefore, protect their home. Instead, she falls in love with him, and Liu is given a chance to redeem himself.
The Mermaid sounds like an odd mix of ideas. It has a musical number; documentary-style footage of dolphin slaughter with the warning “humans are evil;” slapstick humor with lots of comic falls, puking, and puns; and a scene in which Octopus, while disguised as a chef, has his tentacles put through a meat-grinder, which are then fed to the rich. In China, such dark jokes speak to issues currently facing the country: corruption, forced relocation, and pollution.
The Mermaid’s success is likely helped along by China’s ongoing Spring Festival, a time when the Chinese visit home, spend time with family, and reminisce. Chow’s films have united people in China for a long time, and apparently still entertain. So much so they knocked two other blockbuster films — The Monkey King 2 and The Man from Macau 3— from their spots.
Not only is The Mermaid being screened in the U.S., it’s also been released — by Sony — in Singapore and Malaysia, where its success in China has been repeated.
For filmmakers, China is a huge market and one Hollywood desperately wants to take advantage of. The country has 800 percent more cinemas today than it did 10 years ago and is the second biggest market, revenue-wise. It will soon be the biggest.
But China doesn’t allow too many movies to screen in the country. Filmmakers need to understand what the censors will allow and what the Chinese like, which isn’t always easy. For now, those who can see The Mermaid at their local theater may want to check out what exactly has captured Chinese audiences, and it sounds like the film is like nothing Americans have seen before.
[Photo via YouTube]