22 June, right next to Mission: Impossible 7’s London Premiere in Leicester Square, we showed The Mermaid at The Prince Charles Cinema as part of our festival Odyssey 2023’s programme this year. Combining a mixture of different genres, a fine balance between comedy and tragedy, The Mermaid is an important advocacy for ocean protection and biodiversity.

Ruolan, a beautiful and rich business woman is ready to melt herself in her lover’s arms, but Mr Liu, a playboy billionaire only glues his eyes to the computer screen. He is not interested in her body nor her wealth at this moment.

He is confused and reading article after article on the internet about ocean biodiversity. He asks the lady half naked in bed: “Are we bad people, are we destroying the ocean and its species by developing properties around the bay?”

This is a moment of realisation, the birth of a new hero of China.

In the next moment, he rejects her fabulous offer, the only temptation lingers is to find out how he can save the ocean and the mermaid that he has fallen in love with – Shan.

Created and directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Chow, The Mermaid remains the most successful blockbuster Chinese film to date about ocean protection and biodiversity. This was released before Avatar: The Way of Water in 2016. Its clever mixture of genres, romance, comedy, action, martial arts and fantasy enables the film to be widely accessible across cultures. Surprise after surprise, it is those awkward moments when you are not sure whether you should laugh or not which call in our consciousness into active debate.

A playboy business tycoon, Mr Liu, purchases the Green Gulf, a wildlife reserve, for a sea reclamation project, and uses sonar technology to remove all sea life in the area. Unknown to him, the Green Gulf is the home of merpeople, and the sonar has caused many of them to succumb to illness or die. Mr Liu’s business ventures in the area are threatened when he crosses paths with the mermaid, Shan, who is sent to avenge her people.

Yes, we then have the romance.

Mr Liu falls in love with the mermaid, because she brings in another perspective in his life. She is innocent, simple and different from other women he encounters.

“If there is no more clean air and water on this planet, it doesn’t matter how much money you have, that’s the end of us.” Shan lectures him.

This is a story about a man’s growing journey, from a playboy who can have anything, any woman he wants in life, to a mature man who decides to devote his life and wealth to a noble mission.

The romance of the story makes its role model building quite effective, Mr Liu transforms from a villain to a hero as the film progresses. Nothing is impossible, if there is a will. This is a message aiming at thousands of Mr Liu out there who have yet met their “mermaid”.

Where it comes to environmental campaign via the medium of film, the traditional genre has always been documentary. People who care about this topic are more likely to consume documentaries about the environment, to get inspired for their action and contribution. My view is that, activists have neglected other genres of the cinema. If the topic is being communicated always in a serous manner or in an elite style, how can we inspire more people to be part of the debate?

In 2021, I made an experiment. As part of the King’s College’s annual event ‘China Week’, I proposed a film screening of The Mermaid  to join in the conversation about climate change and the environment.It was certainly the first of its kind intervention into a policy driven academic environment.

After series of panels and talks regarding policy and scientific findings, the film opened up another angle for the guests. Although not everyone felt immediately comfortable with some of the humours, in the end, most enjoyed the occasion and left with a smile.

Cinema has the power to leave inspiration and imagination behind.

King Charles is famously known for his passion in protecting the environment. It’s not the first time that the King has been invited by China to deliver an address to the country’s environment related events: 2022 at the  Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI) China Council, 2021 at the COP 15 UN Biodiversity Conference for two examples.

It is perhaps true that the King appreciates a sense of humour and eccentricity. Using film as a metaphor to break ice is also an approach which has been used by His Majesty during his visit to the German Parliament earlier this year.

Monty Python does share a certain degree of similar slapstick humour with films made by Stephen Chow. The only difference is that, as shown in The Mermaid, director Chow has a profound understanding of romance and love that is deeply routed in Eastern philosophy.

This is the myth of sensuality that most Westerners have been searching for in the Far East but still yet fully grasped – this is something can only be experienced rather than learnt. Activism and romance together somehow create a rather memorable chemistry.

While the BBC’s natural programmes have always been widely consumed and praised by the Chinese audience, The Mermaid is a Chinese cinema’s take that should equally be acknowledged as the region’s effort in discussing about ocean protection and biodiversity, in reverse.

If His Majesty would like to see The Mermaid where can he see it? The film is available for streaming on Amazon with subtitles.

Responding to the theme of “Global Sustainability” and UN’s 17  SDGs, Odyssey 2023′s programme comprises 2 filmmakers in focus, 5 main stands for online screening (‘JOURNEY’, ‘EQUALITY’, ‘BIODIVERSITY’, ‘ENVIRONMENT’ and ‘URBAN DEVELOPMENT’) and offline screenings in 6 cities.

ABOUT ODYSSEY 2023

Cinema is where people connect.

60+ films, masterclasses, discussion panels and exclusive Q&As.

Odyssey is the biggest annual film festival in the UK, bridging curious audience with Greater China and overseas Chinese communities. The theme for 2023 is ‘Global Sustainability’.

Presented by UK-China Film Collab (UCFC)
Festival Date: 26 May – 30 June 2023
Format: Offline in Person and Online via Shift 72
Festival Website: odysseychinesecinema.uk

Instagram & Twitter Handle: @odysseyccs

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