Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang，Kitten Wang
Do you remember the mermaid from Anderson’s fairy tales? The mermaid sacrificed herself to save the prince she loved. Creatures like her are half-women and half-fish, and they also exist in Eastern culture. Western mermaids originate from the legend of Lorelei, a mermaid from German folk tales. They appear on the riverbanks of Rhine at dusk, luring sailors with their stunning looks and touching songs, whereas the Eastern mermaid is called “Jiao Ren,” a fish-person, whose body fat could be made into long-lasting candles. Their tears also turn into pearls, in writer Tang Qi’s stories, these pearls can even help people come back from the dead.
Mirror, a novel by fantasy writer Cang Yue, was just adapted for a movie by the China Film Group Corporation and SONY. Renowned screenwriter John Collee and Andrew Mason of The Matrix are involved in the project. It tells the story of Na Sheng, a passionate and happy young woman of Chinese Miao descent, and her journey to find a dream homeland in a time of war. The story has adventure, romance, and showcases Chinese mermaids. According to reports, the movie would be directed by a Chinese team and shot with high-end Western special effects. Three different kinds of mystical beings are described in the story, with possible involvement by A-list actors from both China and Hollywood.
When you think of mermaids, you have to think of spirits, another kind of mystical creature that exists around the world. Spirits in Eastern culture usually refer to beings which cultivate themselves to become stronger, similar to wizards in Western fantasy, who advance from low- to high-level magic in their studies. People in the East believe that every being has a soul, as long as enough cultivation is done, they can become as powerful as humans. In the classic Chinese novel, The Legend of White Snake, White Snake and Green Snake were originally loyal and brave snake spirits who have had one thousand years of cultivation. When they heard of their benefactor’s whereabouts, they turned human to repay his help. Some Eastern spirits are incarnations of evil, similar to monsters in Western fantasy, who like to fool and hurt humans, so Eastern fantasy stories often have storylines of monks who discipline or train spirits who misbehave. However, Western spirits are different from Eastern spirits, similar to fairies, they have their own kingdoms and societies, and do not interact with humans. They tend to look adorable and appealing; as long as humans do not bother them, they can peacefully coexist with humans. The fairy godmother in the Disney movie Cinderella was such a spirit.
But Western spirits are not always wonderful, pretty beings. In the animated American movie Hotel Transylvania, Dracula, a so-called spirit, was actually a vampire, which is commonly referred to as a zombie in China. Chinese zombies are not exactly the same as Western zombies. In the West, zombies are the “undead,” evil living beings controlled by wizards with drugs or hypnosis. Chinese zombies come from the popular Hong Kong fantasy movies of the 80s, where a dead body gets infected with evil and reanimates, lives on blood, hops from place to place, is stiff and bullet-proof; their only weakness is light. In December of 2015, the well-known Chinese novel about grave robbers, Candle in the Tomb, was adapted into the movie Candle in the Tomb: The Ghouls. In just 14 hours, the movie box office broke the billion yuan record, igniting a new “zombie fever” in China.
As more and more excellent Chinese fantasy novels are introduced to the world, and as more and more Chinese-Western collaborations in fantasy movies take place, fantasy beings of all different kinds are becoming popular with readers and audiences, making the exchange of world culture even more fruitful.