A movie denouncing the human toll on marine life has broken China’s box office records a sign of increasing environmental awareness among the Chinese public, according to wildlife organizations.
“The Mermaid,” from Hong Kong actor-director Stephen Chow, best known for his jokey, kung-fu-laden hit “Shaolin Soccer,” has taken 2.89 billion yuan (US$456 million) at the Chinese box office in just over two weeks, according to the China Box Office website.

That total stands far above the 825 million yuan taken by “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” in China, or the 542 million from the latest James Bond movie “Spectre.”

The comedy fantasy, filmed in 3D, recounts the adventures of male and female mermaids planning to assassinate a ruthless real estate magnate who has bought a nature reserve and is killing its dolphins.
“It’s good news that movies about the environment can arouse such public interest,” May Mei, China director of the US-based environmental organization WildAid, told reporters.

The film, helped along by a star-studded cast, carries a political weight despite its many gags — a rarity for Chinese cinema, which tends to be geared more toward pure mass entertainment.
“What I most wanted to depict wasn’t a love story, but man’s destruction of the environment,” its director told Phoenix TV.

“In the past 10 years, we’ve seen a growing public awareness on these sorts of issues,” Mei said, citing examples of controversy over shark fin, used as an ingredient in expensive dishes favored by wealthy Chinese.

“In 2006, very few people knew the impact their consumption was having on the reduction of shark populations,” Mei said.

But by 2013, 96 percent of Chinese people were aware of the environmental toll of the once-prized delicacy, according to a WildAid survey.
Former NBA star Yao Ming has taken part in high-profile advertising campaigns against shark fin consumption and ivory use, while the actor Jackie Chan has appeared in a World Wildlife Foundation video clip to promote the protection of wild animals.

Zhang Yuanyuan, China head of the animal protection group ActAsia, described their efforts as “an important reflection of society’s progress.” (Shanghai Daily)