Dir: Wang Yanpeng
Star: Jarvis Wu, Yu Xiao-Wan, Lu Yong, Zhang Xi Lai
a.k.a. Jiaoren of the South China Sea
Okay, bear with me if this review remains kinda vague, even by my standards. The credits are entirely in Chinese, the IMDb page offers almost no information, and there does not appear to be any other reviews of it online. Though the title calls the creatures it contains “mermaids,” the subs refer to them on multiple occasions as “sharks”, which they clearly are not. The alternate title refers to them as “jiaoren”, and merfolk would indeed seem the closest parallel. The Chinese version are supposed to be particularly good at weaving, and cry pearls in place of tears. Discovering this last point actually helped the film make more sense in hindsight.
It begins with Chen Ah Shui (Wu) tells his uncle, village elder Chen Dong Xing (Lu) of his impending marriage to Xiu Er (Yu). Uncle gives the groom to be a wedding gift of a large pearl, which turns out to be basically a bat-signal for the jiaoren. Consequently, the wedding day is disrupted by them showing up, kidnapping Xiu Er, and dragging her off. Understandably peeved, Ah Shui goes off in pursuit, only to be in for a series of unpleasant surprises. These involve the fate of his own father, and Dong Xing’s true motivations, which… Well, this bit was particularly lost in translation. But if I was forced at gunpoint to state definitely, I’d say he was planning to capture the jiaoren, and use them in some sort of pearl factory farming scheme.
Suffice it to say, their aggression is justified, and Ah Shui is having none of it. When he confronts his uncle, Dong Xing tries to turn the villagers into a lynch mob, by saying his nephew angered the dragon god. Luckily, another uncle, Gui (Zhang) has Ah Shui’s back in the battle which follows. I suspect though, even if I did understand it all perfectly, it still feels like there are plot-holes. For instance, after Ah Shui sails off to recover his bride, the boat is attacked by the jiaoren, and sunk, washing up on a deserted beach. Uncle Gui appears out of nowhere, and vanishes almost as rapidly. Similarly, Xiu Er’s sudden reappearance after her abduction is never explained either.
It’s all rather annoying, and takes away from a relatively stylish look and feel. The jiaoren are represented by a mix of latex suits and CGI – neither of which are particularly good, to be frank. There’s a lot of green-screen work, which is generally quite well done, and the cinematography is nice, with sharp, crisp images that pop off the screen. Few of the performances have much impact; Gui’s taciturn presence might be the best, helped by a milky right eye, for no particular purpose. It’s definitely not enough to overcome an underwritten script, especially in need of a clearer explanation to those in the audience who might not be familiar with the folklore in question.
This review is part of our feature, When Chinese Animals Attack.