The Mermaid is brutal, bonkers, and brilliant

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      Starring Yun Lin and Chao Deng. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable. Now playing.

      Splash meets The Cove in this genuinely strange and ceaselessly entertaining box-office smash from China. Opposing impulses are pushed together with enough verve and good intentions to convince startled viewers to embrace its mix of slapstick comedy, brutal violence, and aroused environmentalism.

      Newcomer Yun Lin plays the titular Shan. She’s been chosen as the prettiest among merpersons living in an abandoned tanker in Green Gulf, at the foot of Guillotine Cliff. Her flippers have been modified so she can wear shoes (sort of), and both males and females wear tasteful bikini tops, including a dreadlocked octodude played memorably by pop singer Show Luo. Shan’s supposed to seduce and help get rid of rich guy Liu Xuan (the popular Chao Deng), a conscienceless bastard whose coastal developments are killing marine life, both rare and ordinary.

      Liu’s much smarter business partner Ruolan (super-sexy Kitty Zhang Yuqi) is into him, but he’s drawn to the oddly dressed, deeply accident-prone Shan, and she flips for her intended victim, too. Ruolan doesn’t like the idea of him “chasing some tail”, as she unknowingly puts it, and starts investigating. This leads to a gruesome change of tone foreshadowed by the film’s quick snippet of the abovementioned Cove, a heartbreaking doc about the annual slaughter of trapped dolphins in Japan.

      Perhaps only Hong Kong-born writer-director Stephen Chow, maker of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, could have pulled off such a Bass-o-matic venture, convincingly blenderizing cheesy special effects, effective sight gags, angry agitprop, and pop-culture references ranging from Red Army opera to ’80s Sinopop. (There’s even a cameo with Kris Wu, a musical sensation raised in Vancouver.) The film’s a weird treat, but please leave your tadpoles at home.