TV Review: CNNGo Episode 1

Full disclosure: The following is a review of the first episode of CNN International’s new show, CNNGo. This episode premiered on May 20th, but I haven’t had a chance to watch the review copy they sent until now. However, you can view the episode in two parts, here and here. In the interest of full disclosure, readers should be aware that I recieved a review copy of the DVD, as well as a press release, a note, and a keychain with plastic steamed buns on it for free.

CNN’s press release describes CNN go as “a new monthly show featuring a unique take on global destinations, bringing views from genuine insiders of what gives dynamic cities in Asia and beyond their distinctive buzz.” Although it might seem it, it isn’t really a travel show; rather it’s more a collection of interviews with local insiders spliced with some local music and various shots of city locales.

The premier episode attracts some heavy hitters. Photographer Tang Tang, comedian Zhou Libo, and the now-ubiquitous Han Han all make appearances, as do a couple musicians and food critic Shen Hongfei.

Because it attempts to address art, architecture, music, food, and culture all within a very brief span of time, it feels a bit frantic. The cuts are frenetic , and the snippets of interviews are very short and generally lack much context. The overarching theme is that Shanghai is a vibrant place where the past and present collide in sometimes-interesting ways (heard that story before?) but the show bounces from person to person so fast that it leaves something to be desired even for those of us who know enough to fill in a few of the blanks on our own. Couldn’t we hear a bit more about Tang Tang’s work in the city, or Shanghainese chefs’ efforts to modernize Shanghai cuisine?

The issue of brevity aside, however, there’s plenty worth seeing here. The show’s soundtrack comes exclusively from Shanghai bands, and song titles and artist names are displayed prominently as the songs play, which is helpful. Subtitles generally appear on the bottom left on the screen, but in one shot, they are arranged to the left of the subject, following the architectural lines of the background he’s being interviewed against, which is interesting. This is something I’d like to see more of: subtitle placement that frees us from the tyranny of the bottom of the screen and instead is used to draw the viewers’ eyes to something interesting. Pity in only happens once in this episode.

And, of course, Han Han fails to disappoint, even though the snippets of his interview we see are quite short. He introduces himself by saying, “if you spoke Chinese, you’d know who I am”, and at one point seems to suggest that there’s only so much he can do to help develop Chinese culture without “being disappeared” by the police. He also says, “I think Shanghai could be better, and that’s why I hate it.” Of course, he goes on to say he also loves it.

Certainly, the show gives viewers a taste of what makes Shanghai special to its most famous and influential denizens, and takes them to some places they may not know along the way. But its so short that it comes off something like a lot of the fancy cuisine that critic Shen Hongfei introduces in the middle of the episode: good, but not enough to leave you feeling full after its over.

It’s worth watching, though, and it’s not going to take up a lot of your time, so if you’re interested in Shanghai at all, why not check it out?

Notes:

  • Apologies for the recent radio silence. My younger brother just graduated from high school, so the past few days have been full of ceremonies and family gatherings.
  • ChinaGeeks Chinese has a new post: 泰国骚乱在中国引起了共鸣!? You should check it out if you haven’t already.
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