Watching today’s Chinese TV is not always very rewarding as content is often of various quality. Shanghai’s main commercial TV station Dragon TV is well known for its many talk shows, TV series as well as the current hit “China Talent” or 中国达人秀 . The channel recently started broadcasting a new TV series called “Shanghai Shanghai” or 上海上海. Taking place in old Shanghai, it naturally attracted my interest as well as helping my language skills.
The show tells the story of imaginary entrepreneur and businessman Liu Gong Zhen, using it to show various episodes of Shanghai history. It integrates historical elements and city symbols such as the cabarets and casino competitions into the story. One of the main point is the famous entertainment center and cabaret Great World or 大世界 on the corner of Yanan Lu and Xizhang lu that recently been renovated. It also includes historical facts of the period as well political turmoil of the time. The production spent a lot of time, money and energy to make this a flagship of Dragon TV.
The 40 episodes series need 40 million RMB for production and the effort really shows. The decor and costumes are most often right on the spot. Outside scenes were filmed in gardens of old Shanghai villa and the decor of inside scenes was very well studied to give a real feel for the period. Historians have been clearly involved in set and dresses design and some of the dialogs are in played Shanghai dialect adding again to the whole atmosphere.
Most importantly, the show manages to stir away from too much politics, being a great history lesson for many people in a way that is mostly unbiased for China standards. Heroes and villains are not always on the same side and this adds to the credibility of the whole show. It also avoids the current wave of special effects and over-the-top fights. Mostly focusing on people’s emotions and relations, it manages to captivate the audience, while giving a new and much brighter light to the city history. As Shanghai is re-discovering or re-inventing its past, the series creates a new mythology for the city.
Shanghai Shanghai is a great show cleverly captivating people as well as sending a great message to Shanghainese about their city’s past. I hope a DVD version with English subtitles will be made as it could open a foreign career for the program, or at least allow the many foreigners living in Shanghai to watch it. Although attention has been paid to details and most of the story takes place in the former foreign concessions I have yet to see a foreigner on screen. This little point would have been a great point to the show, underlining Shanghai history as an international city.