What if I told you a Chinese billionaire spent 130 million dollars on a movie – only for that movie to never actually be released. This is the story of that horrific, failed movie.
The last few decades have seen China rise from an impoverished nation to one of the world’s great powers. More than 6 million Chinese people are now millionaires. That’s not to mention China’s emerging middle class. So the film industry has gradually adapted to this new market, bending over backwards to appeal to Chinese consumers. And it wasn’t just western filmmakers who saw an opportunity here.
In 2007 the Chinese billionaire Jiang Hongyu decided to fund his own movie. I can’t find any images of Jiang, so i’ll be using Kermit instead. He was a man of ambition, envisioning an epic on the scale of lord of the rings. Billed as China’s answer to Avatar, he came up with a rushed story line and called it Mermaid Island. He actually hoped it would be the first in a blockbuster series. Set in a world where mermaids are real, and rule over powerful underwater kingdoms, it tells the story of a human man who falls in love with a mermaid. So it’s basically Avatar meets the Little Mermaid. And if you look at specific details of the plot, it gets even more pointless.
Lost The Plot
The man is an ordinary Greek, who only goes on this adventure because the mermaid steal a Greek temple and take it underwater. I’m not sure how you move an entire temple, but they are mythical creatures so I guess it’s ok. On the journey he becomes the hero of the movie, encountering all kinds of strange monsters. But then on finally reaching the mermaid kingdom he turns out to be evil. So the hero turns out to be a villain. But it just confuses the already busy story line. So even before production began, things were not going well.
The script actually took 4 years to complete, and went through more than 40 drafts. Jiang even hired Randall Frakes to help finish the script, a writer known for his work with James Cameron. But even he could not save it, calling the story incomprehensible. A lot of the movie was directly lifted from others, but Jiang insisted it all remain in the script.
Outside of the terrible story, you can do a lot with 130 million. For director he tried to hire Irvin Kershner, most well known for directing The Empire Strikes Back. But when Jiang refused his suggestions, both he and Frakes gave up and left. Hired next was a much less famous French director known as Pitof. But he too left after disagreements with Jiang. This was a pattern – multiple actors, producers and directors found it impossible to work with Jiang. No matter how convoluted the movie was, he flat out refused any changes. So in desperation, a music video director was hired, and production began. The new director lacked experience, but similarly to Jiang, he dreamed of being like Steven Spielberg.
Most of the actors hired only had experience with low budget productions. Why? Because most actors with a name knew to avoid this failed movie project. The costume design was also horrendous. A lot of the characters look like failed Star Trek extras. Like all other aspects of the production, it would be forgivable if the budget was not so large. To be honest it’s hard to find anything that went well. The set design was inconsistent, there was a big language barrier on set, and nobody really knew what was going on. There were so many plot holes, local police were harassing the actors for some reason – it wasn’t an ideal situation. People were allegedly assaulted by producers, and one actress was so scared she had to secretly flee China. The director helped her flee, and then quit.
In 2010, yet another director replaced him. This one thought the movie was too goofy to be taken seriously, so he started directing it as a comedy. He also just wanted to get it over and done with, so he sped up filming. But two months later he also left the project as it was not getting done fast enough. The next director was a documentary filmmaker, who tried to convince Jiang to re-shoot the entire movie. That request was denied – but the new director succeeded where the others had failed – in the sense that he didn’t quit. But he probably should have because it seems to have killed his career.
Becoming A Failed Movie
By this time the amount of money spent was ridiculous, but it did at least have a better name – Empires of the deep. It’s planned release date was 2011. But when that year rolled by, it was just never released. He spent more than a hundred million on a movie just to never show it to anyone. Most people involved in the project refused to talk about it publicly. But then in late 2012, a trailer for this failed movie was released, claiming it would finally be available in 2013. This was 2 years after filming had wrapped, and nobody cared. Yet still, if the trailer looked good, there would be no reason for people to not buy tickets. But it didn’t look good, it looked terrible.
One of the problems with the trailer is the special effects look terrible. And there’s a good reason for that – the company who handled it was also founded by Jiang Hongyu – and despite a massive budget, they really hated spending money. I mean look at this… this is not money well spent. Needless to say, the trailer actually killed any chance of the film being released. No distribution company picked it up, they just knew it would bomb. In 2015 Jiang was asked why it was taking so long for Empires of the deep to be released. And amazingly, he blamed it on the special effects, claiming they were so good it was still not finished. So that’s weird.
A Never Ending Story
At a certain point he stopped funding the movie. It’s unclear if he was running out of money or if he just decided enough had been wasted for him to play director. But I like to imagine he spent his entire fortune on this terrible project. In 2016 another trailer came out, but even less people cared. It did nothing to help Empires of the Deep, or Jiang Hongyu. I personally see Jiang as a bit of a legend, but even I admit his idea was never going to work. He once described his big vision as “Transformers meets Shakespeare” and that’s just mental. So that’s it, the story of the greatest failed movie in history. Hopefully one day Empires of the deep will actually be released so we can all laugh at it. But until then we’ll just have to laugh at you.