Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

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.

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Title: PhantaCity
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.

Title: Shake It Up
Watch it on: SMG Shanghai TV or watch just the clips of the routines here.
English subs: No (But you should still be able to enjoy the dance numbers even without them.)

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.)

Video Clip:

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.

To find more variety shows you can also check out the SMG Shanghai TV, Zhejiang TV and Hunan TV YouTube channels.

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.

  1. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    Yes, i recommend laugh out loud. The slanted set and mirror act are my favourite as well. Really enjoyable to watch and you really don’t need subs.

    • 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

      Also recommend Divas Hit the Road 3. There used to be subs, but unfortunately they’re not there anymore. Can’t remember much but one of the things i enjoyed was definitely the funny things they say. Tony Yang is hilarious, the type that opens his mouth and you’ll crack up. Guli Nazha, i only knew her from dramas so my impression of her was that she was the quiet, cool, reserved type, but she is actually not like that and can be dorky.

      Of course also recommend Who’s the Murderer. Those who like mystery, crime solving stuff will enjoy it, but really i think anyone will enjoy it. The ideas and set are great and love the editing and the antics of the cast and their interactions. It is also the only variety show where i don’t skip any parts. Unfortunately subs for season 1 and 2 are no longer available on hunan’s yt channel (but there are some episodes subbed available on other channels) and season 3 not all eps are subbed. There’s also Who’s the Keyman (subs still there), which is basically the same thing, but i would have to say that for some reason i didn’t really enjoy the first two eps. I don’t know, it was lacking something or maybe i just wasn’t in the mood while watching it. Anyways watch it while subs are still there or dl the subs to watch later.

      • 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

        Yeah, Hunan’s been removing a lot of the English subs lately. It’s very odd. Along with Divas Hit the Road, Sisters Over Flowers is also great. Has my favorite line of all times from when Aarif Rahman got surprised last minute to go on the trip and was rushing home to pack to make his flight.

        I made a clip of it that I send to people when I’m annoyed: https://youtu.be/YD3P11yJpbs

  2. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    I’d recommend Come Sing With Me! It’s a singing show where ordinary people get to sing in front of/with well-known singers. Some standout eps from the latest season had Leehom Wang (the trio who sang Luo Ye Gui Gen were awesome), Fish Leong (lots of classic songs from my childhood), Zhang Jie (He Doesn’t Understand was great), Wang Yuan (the group performance of 17 was touching https://youtu.be/oe9vrsLQZ-8) and JJ Lin (fav Cpop singer of all time).

    There’s also The Sound where actors compete in voice dubbing. The performance for Zootopia was hilarious XD https://youtu.be/5bzeOOkPWM8

    I Am An Actor has so much drama with people not getting along and there’s a mix of really bad and really good acting. I only watch the performance cuts but it’s definitely great to check out if any actors you like are on the show, or if you want to be pleasantly surprised and find some new actors to stan!

    • 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

      I saw a couple clips of The Sound. That also looked good. I liked the one where they dubbed the rain scene from Playful Kiss.

  3. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    I love ‘I am a Singer’ and ’24 hours’. One of the best singing shows since it’s basically a chance for good singers to do what ever they want, and 24 hours is fun because of the adventure and the wide range of countries and places the crew visit. Excellent main hosts, especially season 1 with Leo Wu and Chen Kun

  4. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    Someone mentioned Chinese Restaurant on the chat box, it’s definitely worth a watch. I didn’t like Season 1 but Season 2 was great! The atmosphere was awesome in Season 2!

    Viva La Romance is what I am watching right now too! 4 wives going on a trip + light bulb wei da xun haha!
    Also 勇敢的世界, it’s like a laser-tag kinda variety. But it got a little boring during the recent episodes, because it’s so predictable, everyone keeps teaming up and aiming the strongest.

    Mentioned above, Who’s the Murderer Seasons 1-3 and the sister variety, 全民大侦探/Who’s the Keyman. The first episode/pilot episode was kinda boring and I didn’t get what they were trying to do so I just skipped it. But subsequent episodes are similar to Who’s the Murderer! But the last episode disappointed me too because I disliked the format a lot.
    And The Sound, love it so much! Great quality variety.

    Grade One Season 1 with Song Jia and Chen Xue Dong!!
    Back to Field/向往的生活 Seasons 1 & 2 with 何老师,黄老师 and Henry!

  5. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    Don’t watch a lot of variety shows because my drama backlogs is too huge lol. but I did love the few episodes I saw of Who’s the Murderer. 24hrs was fun too but I watched few s1 episodes because I knew like 5 of the 6 hosts (Xu Zheng, Chen Kun, Leo Wu, Yin Zheng, Han Geng).

    I watched most of 放学别走/Don’t Leave after School (mango tv, hunan tv’s internet platform) few months ago and liked it a lot. It’s more of a talk show with bunch of teenagers. (kids born after 2000s) Someone their age will come in and bring up a topic and everyone would discuss it. 撒贝宁/Sa Bei Ning who’s a well known CCTV host lead the discussion and he’s in his early 40s so he gets super confused about what the kids are talking a lot, but he also tries to guide them and bridge the gap between kids and adults.

    I also liked the bits of iqiyi’s 奇葩说, which is basically bunch of people with very strong opinions and debating skills participate in a debate. I watched it because I liked two of the hosts. Mhm I think I lean pretty heavy towards talk shows, do they count as variety shows…?

  6. 10 thoughts on “Series Review: Chinese Variety Shows

    The only one I have seen was Hot Blood Dance Crew becoz there is William in it hahaha

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