Mermaid Sauna is a Taiwanese comedy about three coworkers who have swapped their bodies magically. The story features the boss of a gay bathhouse and his two young employees, all trapped inside each other's bodies. Unable to switch back, the characters must assume their new identities and adjust to bizarrely different perspectives towards life.
Although I came for the BL, I stayed for the wacky genderswap comedy in Mermaid Sauna. The silly story is elevated thanks to the enthusiastic performances from the lively cast. However, the plot is too light and the romances are too insubstantial, limiting the potential of this occasionally enjoyable drama.
Mermaid Sauna Summary
Around 2 hours
Happy and upbeat
Around 12 to 15 minutes
A-Bu is the owner of a gay bathhouse. He started this small business after quitting his old office job, unhappy with the workplace politics. Currently in his early forties, A-Bu is a single and openly gay man. He has a quick wit and a sharp tongue, so it's easy for him to attract friends. However, he's also just as likely to make enemies.
A-Bu has two employees at his bathhouse, also known as the Mermaid Sauna. His first employee is Xiao Chi, a young university student who helps with various miscellaneous errands. Xiao Chi studies art and enjoys sketching portraits of the human physique, especially the male patrons around the bathhouse. However, he also has an ambiguous relationship with his university friend Xi Jia, who clearly has a crush on him. Unwilling to commit to a romance, Xiao Chi keeps denying that she is his girlfriend.
The second employee is Hua Hua, a new hire at the bathhouse. Hua Hua is a beautiful and flirtatious woman whose seductive charms over men have complicated her love life. She wants to work at a gay bathhouse to avoid getting hit on by random guys. Hua Hua also used to work as a flight attendant before this job.
A-Bu, Xiao Chi, and Hua Hua get along quite well. One day, the three of them throw a celebratory party after work hours, enjoying the warm baths together. Unfortunately, they all drank too much alcohol, falling into a drunken stupor throughout the night. When they wake up the following day, the three colleagues are mortified to discover that they have swapped bodies overnight! Xiao Chi is now in A-Bu's body, A-Bu is in Hua Hua's body, while Hua Hua has transferred to Xiao Chi's body.
Perplexed by this mysterious body swap, the three characters can't find a way to reverse the effects. They remained stuck in each other's bodies, trying their best to adjust to their new lifestyles. For Hua Hua, she's getting used to being a woman in a young man's body. For Xiao Chi, he's learning to cope with the body of a man twice his age. And for A-Bu, it means he gets to enjoy life as a beautiful, seductive woman. Each character goes through a hilarious journey with their new identities, filled with many wacky hijinks and steamy encounters.
Mermaid Sauna Trailer
Mermaid Sauna Cast
A-Bu Patrick Lee (李沛旭) Patrick Lee Instagram
A-Bu is the owner of a gay bathhouse called Mermaid Sauna. He quit his old office job after clashing with his coworkers. Now, A-Bu runs his own business, where he gets to be the boss. He is a single gay man in his early forties. Full of flamboyant flair, A-Bu has a loud, extroverted, and larger-than-life personality.
Hua Hua Lene Lai (賴琳恩) Lene Lai Instagram
Hua Hua is the newest hire at Mermaid Sauna, working as an accountant in the bathhouse. She is a flirtatious woman who has gotten herself entangled in many romantic relationships, often with married men. Hua Hua wants to work at the gay bathhouse to avoid her male suitors. She doesn't want to flirt with men anymore until "Mr. Right" shows up.
Xiao Chi Edward Chen (陳昊森) Edward Chen Instagram
Xiao Chi is a young employee who works at A-Bu's bathhouse, where he runs various errands. He is also a university art student. A talented artist, Xiao Chi enjoys sketching the ripped physiques of the male patrons in the bathhouse. However, his sexuality is more ambiguous, and he has an uncommitted relationship with his school friend Xi Jia.
Enson Cheng (張雁名)
Ray Yang (楊鎮)
- The actor playing Xiao Chi (Edward Chen) starred in the 2017 BL drama Red Balloon. Later, he landed his breakout role as the lead actor of the 2020 BL movie Your Name Engraved Herein.
- Also, the actor playing Hua Hua's ex-boyfriend (Chen Xi Teng) had supporting roles in multiple BL series, including Craving You and Be Loved in House.
- The actress playing Xi Jia (JC) had a small role in the 2012 Taiwanese LGBT movie Girlfriend, Boyfriend.
Mermaid Sauna Review
Drama Review Score: 6.5
Mermaid Sauna is a zany and boisterous comedy that shines on some occasions. It relies on the lively cast members to energize the story. These actors have good comedic chops, propelling the strange scenarios and turning them into funny moments. While the humour is more superficial than sophisticated, the sheer goofiness could evoke a giggle or two out of you.
A body swap might not be a new storytelling concept, but the premise still leads to some fun scenarios. For instance, Hua Hua's docile & ladylike mannerisms are pretty amusing when they come from Xiao Chi's lean, tattooed body. Or A-Bu's over-the-top diva antics are entertaining when he channels this energy to fend off Hua Hua's sleazy male suitors. Even though many moments are pretty silly, they contribute to the lighthearted and mischievous feel of the comedy.
All three main characters are stereotypical, almost like cartoonish caricatures. It's most noticeable at the beginning, where their shallow personalities are only defined by a handful of quirky traits. Their characterizations get expanded later in the series, but never to the point of anything substantial. Every once in a while, we see hints of hidden depth that go beyond their intended archetypes. Nonetheless, the characters are oversimplified and don't undergo much development.
Hua Hua's actress (Lene Lai) definitely radiates in her scenes. Out of everyone, she has the most opportunities to showcase her comedic ability, and the actress does such a fantastic job in the spotlight. She captures the essence of A-Bu's persona with a twinkle in her eyes, sass in her voice, and buoyancy in her mannerisms. I was also impressed with Xiao Chi's actor (Edward Chen), who embodies his role enthusiastically. A-Bu's actor (Patrick Lee) isn't bad, but his storyline is the most limiting and the actor doesn't have as much room to shine as his costars.
The romances in Mermaid Sauna are disappointing. A-Bu's whirlwind fling with a guy he met in the bar feels forced, and I couldn't immerse into the storyline. The connection between Xiao Chi and the art dealer could've developed interestingly, but it didn't receive enough focus. Surprisingly, Hua Hua and Xi Jia were the most intriguing pair. I didn't expect the non-BL romance would be my favourite storyline in a BL series. Yet, the characters shared an emotional & physical intimacy that felt compelling.
Mermaid Sauna shot two different endings, featuring a divergence in how one of the romances develops. The official ending is terrible, made worse because the alternative ending is so much more suitable. I'm shocked the series filmed two separate conclusions and then picked the obviously inferior version. 🤨 While the alternative ending caps off the events on a better note, I still don't feel entirely fulfilled by Mermaid Sauna. I wanted more plot, more romance, and more substance from a fun yet limited series that didn't explore its full potential.
Mermaid Sauna has a pretty silly story that doesn't take place in the realm of logic. To be fair, there wouldn't be a plausible way to make a body swap logical, so you'll have to go along with some parts of the zaniness.
The official reason is that a magical bottle of alcohol caused them to swap bodies. Sure, why not? Let's not overthink it. How they swap their bodies isn't the important part of Mermaid Sauna. The focus is more on what they do with their new identities afterwards.
The more exciting element of Mermaid Sauna is what the main characters do in their new bodies. For A-Bu, he has to get used to being a woman. The reverse goes for Hua Hua, who must transition to living life as a man. Xiao Chi has a comparably easier body swap, experiencing minor inconveniences as an older man with back issues. Xiao Chi's storyline explores his sexuality, which sounds interesting on paper. However, the plot doesn't get executed with too much nuance.
Due to the body swap, the romances in Mermaid Sauna become blurred. Technically, there's a blossoming romance between Xiao Chi and the art dealer. However, these relationship scenes occur with Xiao Chi in A-Bu's body instead of Xiao Chi himself. The distinction is quite important, making you focus more on the emotional connection between the characters. During the kissing scene, they switch back to Xiao Chi's actor (Edward Chen), but the rest of the interactions are portrayed by A-Bu's actor (Patrick Lee).
I guess the romance between Xiao Chi and the art dealer is okay, but there's hardly substantial content between them. They talked about art a few times, which is cute, but that's pretty much all the depth in their relationship. It's a shallow storyline that needed more emphasis and development to be actually enjoyable.
Xiao Chi and Xi Jia
The more compelling storyline is actually Xiao Chi's relationship with his university friend Xi Jia. Her character is a very standard female love interest with an obvious crush on Xiao Chi. What's interesting is Xiao Chi's ambivalence towards her. The two of them are close, but he emphasizes they're just friends and wouldn't commit to any romantic relationship with her. At the same time, he's almost giving Xi Jia mixed signals, fuelling her false hope that something more could happen between them.
As the series develops, we learn that Xiao Chi doesn't want to date his friend because he's more attracted to guys. He would not admit this attraction, even as Hua Hua questions him about his interest in the male physique. It's unclear whether he feels confused or is in denial about his sexuality. Either way, Xiao Chi ends up kissing a guy while trapped in A-Bu's body. The experience gives him more insight into whether he liked men or not.
Hua Hua and Xi Jia
If there's one thing I love more than BL dramas, it's a BL drama with a secret GL storyline! 😘 I came into Mermaid Sauna looking for a gay romance and somehow ended up watching a lesbian couple instead. The intimacy between Hua Hua and Xi Jia was a curveball that caught me by surprise, albeit in a good way.
For most of the series, Mermaid Sauna lacks depth and sophistication. However, one of the only exceptions is the hotel room conversation between Hua Hua and Xi Jia in Episode 7. During a surprisingly insightful chat, Hua Hua encourages Xi Jia to move on from her crush. The scene almost feels like a therapy session. Hua Hua tries to analyze why Xi Jia is interested in a guy who wouldn't return her feelings. As Xi Jia opens up and becomes vulnerable, Hua Hua comforts her with a kiss, leading to a passionate sex scene between them.
Oh my god, I wasn't expecting the girl-on-girl action, but it added a pleasant twist to Hua Hua's storyline. Since Hua Hua is tired of her romantic entanglements with men, it's an exciting change of pace for her character to end up with a woman instead. I wish Mermaid Sauna committed more to the GL elements instead of making the Hua Hua and Xi Jia hookup merely a one-time experiment. Imagine if this series ended with both Xiao Chi and Hua Hua open to exploring their sexuality. How progressive!
A-Bu and Paul
Sorry, I really couldn't connect with the A-Bu and Paul relationship whatsoever. Their whirlwind romance feels so absurd and doesn't seem plausible. The two of them just met at a bar, but this stranger suddenly asked A-Bu to travel the world with him. What on earth is happening!?
Making Paul's character pansexual is a nice gesture, since he can fall in love with A-Bu regardless of his gender. As much as I like the message, his attraction seems like a huge stretch. Last night, you were seemingly hitting on a hot young girl. The following day, she suddenly transformed into a middle-aged gay man. Are you bullshitting me when you say that your attraction has remained the same?
I dunno, maybe it's possible, but the A-Bu and Paul romance feels more like a contrived fantasy. The whole storyline doesn't seem grounded, making it difficult to immerse in their relationship scenes.
The Mermaid Sauna cast does a great job. Each actor brings an enthusiastic energy that makes their roles feel distinctive. After adopting their body-swapped personas, A-Bu feels believable as a diva, Xiao Chi shows restraint as an ingenue, and Hua Hua buzzes with feminine charisma. You can tell the actors had fun with their performances, immersing themselves in the roles and amplifying various personality quirks for comedic effect.
Hua Hua's actress (Lene Lai) has the most opportunities to shine, radiating every time she delivers a line, flashes a smile, or exchanges a cunning glance. I was pleasantly surprised by Xiao Chi's actor (Edward Chen), who added nuances to his characterization. There's a scene where he opens the wine bottle and his mannerisms are pretty on-point. Compared to his costars, A-Bu's actor (Patrick Lee) had a limiting role that doesn't give him as much time in the spotlight. Nonetheless, he's still pretty decent and everyone puts in charismatic performances.
Mermaid Sauna has two different endings that are pretty similar for the most part. As expected, all the characters return to their original bodies in both endings. The main difference is how Xiao Chi's relationship with Xi Jia gets resolved. In the official ending, he asks Xi Jia to become his girlfriend. In the alternate ending, he remains platonic friends with her instead.
It's a small yet significant difference that will affect how you perceive the ending. The official ending doesn't make sense because the past eight episodes explored Xiao Chi's attraction to men. He showed no inclination towards his female friend, but somehow they started dating!? I'm not even being biased as a BL watcher, but it just doesn't seem reasonable for Xiao Chi and Xi Jia to end up together.
Mermaid Sauna has an alternate ending that resolves the storyline more sensibly. After returning to his body, Xiao Chi and the art dealer have a brief encounter. In the original ending, Xiao Chi pretends like they don't know each other. (🙄) In the alternate ending, Xiao Chi smiles and tells the art dealer to wait for him. Their bond is acknowledged and it seems like they would get together afterwards.
The alternate ending also includes an official break-up scene between Xiao Chi and Xi Jia. In this version of the ending, Xiao Chi apologizes to his friend that he doesn't have feelings for her. She is upset, but accepts that they can still be friends. It's an elegant conclusion to their relationship, which feels satisfying with a tinge of bittersweetness.
I don't understand why Mermaid Sauna chose to go with the official ending over this alternate version. I suppose this ending is sadder and doesn't match the upbeat vibe of the series. However, I can't imagine many BL fans would want Xiao Chi and Xi Jia to end up together over Xiao Chi and the hot art dealer. The alternate ending is so clearly superior that I consider it the official version. The other ending is simply the darkest timeline.
In both endings, the main characters manage to track down another bottle of magical alcohol, which will restore them to their original bodies. However, the alcohol must be consumed before midnight, or the magical effects will wear off like Cinderella. It makes ZERO logical sense, but let's not overthink it.
Originally, A-Bu agrees to travel the world with Paul. Ever since his ex-boyfriend passed away, this is the first time he opened up to love again. That's why A-Bu wants to pursue a relationship with Paul. However, he couldn't go through with the trip. He doesn't want to abandon his friends in their undesirable bodies. A-Bu arrives at the bathhouse in the nick of time, right before the midnight deadline. The three of them drink the alcohol together and restore their bodies afterwards.
The epilogue shows there are happy endings for all the main characters. Paul insists that he can love someone regardless of their gender. So, he still maintains a romantic connection with A-Bu, even after the latter returns to his original body. As for Hua Hua, she goes back to dating men again and receives a booty call from an old high school acquaintance. We already discussed what happens with Xiao Chi. Either he pairs up with Xi Jia in the bad ending, or he gets together with the hot guy in the good ending.
Mermaid Sauna Episodes
Mermaid Sauna has a total of 8 episodes. Each episode is around 12 to 15 minutes long. The last episode is around 20 minutes long. This is a short BL drama, and you can finish the entire series in approximately 2 hours. Mermaid Sauna aired its first episode on July 4, 2018 and ended on July 26, 2018.
⭐ Best episode
Episode 7 is one of the few emotionally sophisticated episodes in Mermaid Sauna. In this episode, Xi Jia celebrates her birthday with Hua Hua in a hotel room, unaware her companion isn't the real Xiao Chi. They have an intimate chat, where Xi Jia opens up about her feelings.
Motivated by the emotional moment, Hua Hua kisses her and they sleep together. Afterwards. Xi Jia leaves first to avoid an awkward encounter. Deep down, she knows that Xiao Chi doesn't have feelings for her. She decides to give up on this one-sided crush.
In the same episode, we also get a kiss between Xiao Chi and the art dealer! After flirting for the past few episodes, the art dealer asks Xiao Chi to sketch a portrait of him. (Imagine the gay version of Titanic, "Draw me like one of your French girls!") The art dealer STRIPS down to a towel and Xiao Chi begins sketching his physique. During an intimate moment, they end up kissing. Xiao Chi seems to have enjoyed the kiss as he reminisces about it afterwards.
💋 Episodes with kissing
All the kissing happens in Episode 7. In terms of BL, there's a kiss between Xiao Chi and the art dealer. The kiss begins with the actor playing A-Bu (Patrick Lee). Then, the camera starts swirling and they swap the actors. We also see Xiao Chi's actor (Edward Chen) kissing a guy as well.
In the same episode, we also get a passionate GL kiss between Hua Hua and Xi Jia. It's a full-fledged girl-on-girl kiss between the actresses. In fact, they kiss on two occasions. It's fair to say that you'll find more GL action than BL content in Mermaid Sauna.
💪🏻 Episodes with skin
Episode 1, 2, 7, 8
Since Mermaid Sauna takes place in a bathhouse, you can expect to see lots of shirtless torsos on display. In the first episode, there's a parade of skimpily-clad men in their swimsuits.
We also see the main characters shirtless in Episodes 1, 2, 7, and 8. The art dealer also strips down to just a towel in Episode 7 when Xiao Chi sketches a portrait of him.
Behind the Scenes
Mermaid Sauna Information
Wildfire Entertainment is a Taiwanese studio that made Red Balloon (2017) and Mermaid Sauna (2018). The studio has focused on non-BL projects since then.