Mermaid Whispering - Yuan Hsu-Hu

My name is Yuan Hsu-Hu, I used to direct television commercials and music videos. I started scuba diving in 2000 and got my diving instructor license in 2005. I’ve taught diving to many of my friends in the film production industry, including directors, cinematographers, producers, and art directors. Back then, underwater videography was impossible to execute in Taiwan, as we did not have the required skill nor equipment. Producers would call off the project or if the budget is handsome, they would film it in Thailand, where underwater videography is well developed.

In 2009, a film producer, whom I taught diving to, came to ask for my advice about filming underwater. He was doing a film directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and it was for the Taiwan Pavilion in the 2010 World Exposition held in Shanghai.

I advised him to combine scuba diving and free diving to get the best result, but the biggest problem was that there was no one capable of filming underwater at the time, let alone free diving. Hence began my journey of underwater film making.

After the World Expo project, producers would come to me whenever they needed to film underwater. I’ve shot in high mountain lakes, water dams, streams filled with bird guano, and war tunnels, places where no divers would normally go. As the number of underwater videography cases increased, the idea of developing my underwater filming team became clearer. I started asking the people I knew in the film industry, but nobody was interested in turning this into a professional skill, diving was more of a hobby to them. That being the case, I turned to dive instructors and people working in the diving industry. I planned to train the divers into film crews. Luckily, I was able to find the perfect match and form an underwater team of my own.

I continuously filmed many underwater projects for both movies and commercials. Once, we were filming on an island and my buddies and I were chatting on the beach during break time. We talked about the underwater projects we’ve shot were either about showing the beauty of zero gravity, or, solving technical problems that couldn’t be done on land, we weren’t doing anything to help the ocean. We realized that the severe environmental issues happening in the ocean were of no concern to other filmmakers, but they were for my buddies and me. Therefore, I came up with the idea of shooting a film about the ocean by ourselves, my buddies fully supported my proposal. This was how I started as a commercial director then underwater cinematographer, and finally to where I am now, a movie director.

Mermaid Whispering is a feature film about the love for the ocean. The story revolves around a woman from the city, a man from a seaside tribe, and a mermaid. The message I wanted to send is about the ignorance of humans and how we should all start caring for the ocean through action.

The process of making this film was very difficult. I wrote the screenplay, looked for funding, trained my actors, and scouted the underwater sites. I had to go through every decision from major to trivial. None of the producers could help me because nobody has had the experience of making a movie which will mainly be shot underwater. I reached out to potential investors that I’ve known from when I was directing commercials. No one is confident about investing in this film, because they don’t think it has any commercial value. Being backed into a corner, I stepped onto the same path as many independent filmmakers did in Taiwan. I got a mortgage on my house to get the funds to make my film.

As a result, I fulfilled my love for the ocean and made the first Taiwanese feature film about the ocean, Mermaid Whispering. The film was selected into six film festivals and won seven awards.

The trailer of Mermaid Whispering

Humans can not see the damage they do to the ocean. Most underwater cinematographers only show the glamorous aspect of the world underwater, because watching this beautiful footage and images makes people happy. There is nothing wrong with this, I would say that I am no different than other cinematographers when filming for a client. However, when I do my project, I do not turn my head or my lens away from the devastation in the ocean. Like all creators, I enjoy creating beautiful things, but the responsibility that I’ve given myself is to show the truth to the audience. This is the reason why I do not embellish the images I see underwater. I will continue my way of raising ocean awareness by making films about the ocean, hence, I’ve started my second feature film, “122°E, 22°N”.

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