A new Chinese film has an environmental message as subtle as the one in Avatar — just replace the blue people with merpeople.
Directed by Hong Kong celebrity filmmaker Stephen Chow, The Mermaid made a $436 million splash in China’s box office. That makes it highest-earning film ever shown in China.
Here’s the plot: A billionaire plans to illegally develop some land off the coast. But first, he has to kill off everything in the water. (Why? Don’t ask questions.) It turns out that the ocean, unbeknownst to the world, is teeming with merfolk who understandably object to this plan. They send one of their own to the surface, to seduce and slay the business mogul and save their precious waters. Naturally, romance and drama ensue, à la The Little Mermaid.
Good luck trying to get that friend who refuses to watch subtitled movies to see this one with you — it’s only playing in 35 theaters across the U.S. Even so, The Mermaid grossed $1 million in the U.S. over the weekend, making it North America’s biggest opening for a Chinese-made movie since Jet Li’s Fearless in 2006.
Though it’s technically classified as a comedy, Quartz points out that The Mermaid is really about the ecological peril of human development. The trailer flashes through scenes of polluted waters, dying sea creatures, and natural resources being destroyed. And the rich property developer exemplifies rampant human greed: “This entire bay is mine!” he exclaims at one point.
At the end of the trailer, a disembodied voice poses the question, “Hypothetically, if the world doesn’t have a single drop of clean water or single breath of clean oxygen left, what do you want the most?”
As this is allegedly a rom-com, there’s a small chance the answer will be [shudder] “love.” I don’t know about you, but I’ll take the clean water and clean air first, please. And maybe a bowl of popcorn, too.