How China's obsession with Korean reality TV turned deadly


Actor Godfrey Gao, who died in November while filming a Chinese reality show Chase Me, which is a spin-off of a popular South Korean TV series Running Man.

Taiwanese actor Godfrey Gao died of sudden cardiac arrest in November during the shooting of Chinese reality show Chase Me a spin-off from South Koreas most popular variety show Running Man. Cast members of both shows are seen competing in races and missions every week that involve physical activities such as running, hiding and chasing each other.

He fell and lost consciousness while making the show, after reportedly suffering from the flu and working for 17 hours straight before his death.

In the aftermath, fellow Taiwanese host Jacky Wu blamed Gaos death on Korean variety shows, which have spawned several copycat programmes in China.

He mentioned his experiences while filming the road trip reality show 2 Days & 1 Night, adapted from the South Korean original, during which he could barely breathe and almost died because the producers told him to climb the 10,000-step Mount Qingcheng twice. Wu added that Koreans were the originators of the intense working culture that forces 30 cameras to document every second and angle on set.

Online commenters in South Korea derided Wu as brainless for his statements and claimed he followed a crazy logic. One person even urged others to stop spending money in Taiwan.

Variety shows have been a staple of South Koreas television industry since the 1990s and include musical performances, talk shows, travel competitions and eating shows known as mukbang.

The level of struggles that is expected from a celebrity on TV shows is very high these days so it doesnt make sense for producers to say they didnt expect any injuries during filming, culture critic Ha Jae-geun told YTN.

Celebrities become the victims of broadcasting stations that try to increase viewership ratings by pleasing the viewers with highly stimulating and sensational situations, he said. I think the producers just hope the cast dont get hurt during filming.

In 2013, the diving show Splash, in which celebrities perform diving stunts, was cancelled after just four episodes when comedian Lee Bong-won was rushed to hospital after landing face-first in the water. He was diagnosed with an orbital fracture, meaning a broken bone under his eye. Other celebrities including Lee Hun and Sam Hammington were also injured while participating in the show.

The Korean military reality show, Real Man, also came under scrutiny when actor Kim Soo-ro left the set with pain in his shoulders, later undergoing surgery.

Events took an even darker turn in 2014 when a woman killed herself while appearing on Pair, a dating programme. She was found dead in the bathroom before the final stage of the show, where the participants pick each others partners. Her friends, who were texting her during filming, later claimed the shows producers tried to make her seem like a pitiable character and asked her unfair questions during interviews.

In China, many of these South Korean formats have been licensed and adapted. In dozens of other instances, though, they have been copied directly.

South Korean: 1 Night 2 Days (2007) | Chinese: 2 Days & 1 Night (2013)

One of the most popular variety shows in South Korea and a template for other variety shows, 1 Night 2 Days kick-started the career of Na Young-seok, the industrys highest-paid producer.

The game show format follows contestants on various road trips to destinations in South Korea, where they must complete challenges and vie with one another to secure meals and accommodation. Losing contestants can sometimes find themselves sleeping outside without food.

Jacky Wu was the main host for the first season of the Chinese spin-off and Kangta, a famous Korean singer, joined the cast. Korean actor Ahn Jae-hyun also appeared as a contestant during the second season.

South Korean: Running Man (2010) | Chinese: Keep Running (2014); Chase Me (2019)

The cast and guests split into teams to compete in a race to complete a set of missions such as name tag elimination a competition where players on opposing teams run and hide in order to tear off the paper name tags on the back of the opposing team members.

The cast features variety show veterans like Yoo Jae-suk and Kim Jong-kook, while K-pop singers and Korean actors often make guest appearances.

Chase Me, the Chinese reality show that halted filming permanently after Gaos sudden death, is also broadcast by Zhejiang Television, the station that produces Keep Running.

South Korean: Phantom Singer (2016) | Chinese: Super Vocal (2018)

This game show features 32 opera, musical and pop vocalists who team up to make quartets and compete against one another to become the countrys first crossover quartet performing tours and concerts similar to Italys Il Divo. Hunan TVs Super Vocal follows the same format as its Korean counterpart, but with contestants vying to make it to the final six instead of competing to become the last quartet.

South Korean: My Little Old Boy (2016) | Chinese: My Little One (2018)

The reality show follows the daily lives of celebrities while they are single and living alone, with their mothers offering commentary while watching footage in a studio.

The mothers have become nearly as popular as their sons, with some saying it has become uncomfortable going to buy groceries or visiting the spa, as people have started to recognise them in the street. Some of the mothers have also starred in TV commercials.

The format of the South Korean original was copied in its entirety in the Chinese spin-off.

Source: South China Morning Post

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