Along with being a C-drama and C-movie fan, I also enjoy quite a few Chinese variety shows as well. Most of these shows involve celebrities competing against one another or facing some interesting, sometimes potentially embarrassing, situations. Rather than reviewing them individually, I thought I’d give an overview of a selection of the shows that I am currently enjoying or have started checking out. Hopefully you’ll find something here that you may enjoy.
For non-Mandarin speakers, most of these series are not subtitled, but there are some that you can still enjoy despite the language barrier.
Watch it on: Hunan TV
English subs: Dialogue in the music videos is translated and I did see some fansubbed captions had been added on some episodes for the behind the scenes and interview footage.
Concept: Celeb performers (including Jackson Yi, Sandra Ma, Zhu Yi Long, Victoria Song, Wowkie Zhang and Du Chun) pair up with a director to record an 8 minute music video/mini-movie on a 3,000 square meter soundstage (called The Phantaspace) with a live band while it’s being edited and aired live to a studio audience. (Think the Gwen Stefani 2016 Grammy performance.) I enjoy getting to watch the resulting videos and see how well they do or even some of the goofs. They definitely have to have one amazing crew of stagehands and set builders judging by all the transitions from set to set.
Video clip: The very first video, performed by Faye Wong, is a good preview of the concept.
Title: Hot-Blood Dance Crew
Watch it on: Viki.com
English subs: Yes
Concept: A dance competition focused on street dancing. Street dancers compete on a “So You Think You Can Dance” style dance show to join a team coached by either Lu Han and Jackson Wang or William Chan and Victoria Song. They are voted on first by their coaches and then by an audience of 99 street dancers in different group and individual competitions in each episode until one person is crowned the best street dancer.
Video clip: Watch William Chan (“Age of Legends”) channel his inner Bruno Mars.
Concept: Another dance competition, but this one is more along the lines of “Dancing with the Stars” or “Strictly Come Dancing” with a variety of celebrities performing alongside an experienced dancer who partners with them and choreographs each week’s routine. Jiro Wang, Angelababy, Dilraba Dilmurat, Mao Xiaotong, Deng Lun, Rainie Yang, Victoria Song, fencer Lin Dong and more appeared on the show where the celebs were split into three teams and competed within their team and against other teams and then were voted on by both a live studio audience of fans as well as a panel of judges. (I had a little trouble understanding how the voting worked as at the end of the series it seemed that there was more than one winner and there also these little side competitions between some dancers as well. But I was mostly there to watch the routines.)
Video clip: Turns out Peter Sheng from “Oh My General” can do even more than he did in that series.
Title: Laugh Out Loud
Watch it on: Hunan TV
English subs: No (But there are some bits that you can still enjoy even with the language barrier.)
Concept: Celebs have to improvise their way through some sketches while often having to deal with some surprises, embarrassing situations or awkward sets. Two of my favorite bits that get repeated often are ones where celebs either have to try to improv their way through otherwise (usually) ordinary situations on a set that is set at a rather steep angle. The other is kind of a mirror act where a pair of celebs have to repeat the same words and actions as another pair of actors. But often the props that they are given are not quite the same as the ones given to the people they have to imitate.
Video clips: Slanted room – Jiro Wang works at a library.
Mirror act – Andy Zhang and Joe Xu try to survive very spicy chicken wings, an angry bull and butt painting.
Title: Run For Time
Watch it on: Hunan TV – Season 1 and Season 2
English subs: Some have them, but I think you can still enjoy the show without them. (There had been more episodes captioned, but I noticed recently that some had been removed.)
Concept: This actually is a couple years old, but I love to watch Season 2 again ever so often. It’s kind of like a live action game of tag combined with role playing. Except the people tagging you are agents from The Matrix and, depending on how many hearts you get, you may only have two lives before you lose. Celebs show up as either competitors (i.e. Jiro Wang, Ella Chen, Du Chun, Jelly Lin) or acting out roles to help move the game forward. (In Season 1, Zhu Yilong (“Guardian”) and Joe Xu (“The Dark Lord”) each played men trying to save their lovers in eps. 5 and 9 respectively. Hu Bing (“Ice Fantasy”) played a villain in the first episode of Season 2.)
Title: I Am An Actor
Watch it on: Zhejiang TV
English subs: No (May be difficult to follow if you don’t have some knowledge of the language.)
Concept: This show just recently started airing. A pair of celeb actors perform scenes from well known movies or series and are judged by a panel of veteran actors – Zhang Zhiyi, Liu Ye and Song Dandan – who critique the actors and then decide which of the two actors were the best. The three winning actors can decide if they want to challenge one of the veteran actors.
Video clip: From the first episode, I liked this bit where the actors got a chance to improvise a scene with one of the judges where they had to use less dialogue and more body language to tell the story.
What other Chinese variety shows do you enjoy and recommend? Please share in the comments below as I’m always interested in checking out new ones.