No matter the century, humanity, in some form or fashion, has a need to destroy and subjugate beautiful things. The mentality applied is that the people doing the oppression “hate” the uniquely beautiful culture, skin tone, race that isn’t them.
In 2019’s Chinese BL film “Mermaid’s Jade”, merpeople have been driven almost to the brink of extinction by a heinous mixture of greed and hatred. Harming the mermaids and merman produces pearls (as their tears coagulate to form the precious gem) and their blood becomes a pure form of jade. Merpeople are exceptionally beautiful; it is unknown whether it is because they live under the surface of the ocean or because of their supernatural nature; which makes hurting them all the more cruel.
Actor Lawrence Zhang as Che Yuanshan is a natural as the Minister of Criminal Justice in this period drama. The character hates Mermen and Mermaids like everyone in the feudal time period. The hate seems a bit cartoonish in the way humans hate mutants because they are different. The script doesn’t even attempt to offer any more reason than abject greed for why they are so hunted. Any mermaid or man caught or seen is to be killed, no exception. Because of this, merpeople begin to attempt fighting back, but as the film begins with an execution overseen by Yuanshan, it’s futile. The film follows Yuanshan as he investigates the mysterious death of a nobleman. Surprisingly, a merman is discovered in the dead man’s closet.
Andrew Lang plays Yixia, a beautiful merman hiding in plain sight among humans because a dark presence is killing people. The script here falters a bit as it doesn’t explain fully how the merman has evaded this dark presence so far. After seeing how Yuanshan beheaded merpeople before Yixia, you would think execution is imminent; but instead Yuanshan is a bit taken back by Yixia’s intense look (love at first sight?) He brings the merman back to his estate (since Yuanshan is a nobleman) where he lives his wife, who is a Princess.
On the way to the estate, the pair are attacked by Master Li (Dragon Beast) and Yixia declares he no longer desired to kill for him, which makes me believe that he was the one who poisoned the man at the start of this film. But due to the odd pacing and haphazard camera angles, the declaration is ignored. It is here where you start questioning the production budget and the CGI effects; as Master Li faces off against Yuanshan again. They are evenly matched but the effects and acting both look and felt terrible.
Ignoring that for the sake of the amazing story, the next scene shows the effect of Master Li’s Dragon flame. As it burns Yuanshan and only the merman’s saliva can heal him (yes, I know how Yaoi this sounds); but there isn’t time to cringe since the main character’s life is on the line and after a terse explanation, the princess allows the “Yaoi licking”. The Princess makes the decision to keep the merman until Yuanshan awakes, even as everyone around her advises her not too. The camera work cutting to each character in the room is done with skill, showing the difficult situation this is putting everyone in.
By law, everyone should be executed for harboring a merman, a fact judging from their words and horrified expressions they are all aware of. This is why I love this movie even if the CGI is awful at times and sometimes it feels like watching a two-dimensional anime. The plot is so unique and the situations the characters find themselves in, had me captivated from the start. The Dragon Beast ploy to destroy the capital is revealed in the midst of the growing attraction between Yuanshan and Yixia; which happens without censorship and is fully depicted with beauty and serial tension.
The betrayal these two engage in against the Princess does have the worst consequence (no spoiler); but seeing the two men romance and their intimate scenes were so well acted with respect and beauty,that I can say this is one of my favorite films. The princess’ role as the evil woman who ruins the men’s romance is subjugated by the way her role is portrayed. The character is severely betrayed by her man and more so by the merman whom she allowed to live. Watching their drama enfold was a real treat. Well written and acted; seeing the tension mount to its conclusion had me on the edge of my seat.
The character of Master Li was another unexpected surprise in how he has depth and is a true villain in league with powerful men; setting up an intricate political plot which is at its core is the main conflict in this film. Alongside the forbidden romance, brings forth the breaking point in the film’s conclusion, which is beautifully acted and expertly executed.
The death of the Princess breaks Yuanshan to the point he picks up her dead body (killed protecting Yuanshan from Master Li) and abandons Yixia. Fast forward three years later, Yixia is back in the mermaid kingdom while Yuanshan is at the current ruler’s bedside as he is dying(irony). Then the movie stops making sense as Yixia kills Yuanshan as revenge for abandoning him. Only to learn Yuanshan loved him for the three years they were separated (made literally no sense and felt so out of character). Then he merges with Yuanshan, giving him invulnerability as the guy no one wanted to rule takes over. Leading to an all-out one man assault where blood is sparse but all his wounds are healed by Yixia until an unforeseen attack kills him (makes no sense).
But it’s OK because this turns out to be the future where Yuanshan is reincarnated playing an actor portraying his role from the story (I know…Go with it) As he leaves the set for the day he runs into Yixia’s reincarnation and it ends with them staring lovingly at one another.
To me, the movie ended when the princess died and the three-year jump happened; fast-forward to the modern times NO KISSING scenes were involved. All this does is preserve the fact that the storyline was tentatively written. I love what they were trying to do, but the ending was so unnecessary. It was a good movie till they tried to give it a happy ending.
Rating- 4 out of 5