Hong Kong, where are you going? Ask mainland television show

Updated: 2013-11-15 06:56

By Jony Lam (HK Edition)

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The Chinese version of South Korea's Dad, Where Are You Going? has recently replaced If You Are the One as my favorite variety show. These shows, of course, are better known in their Chinese titles Baba Qu Naer and Fei Cheng Wu Rao. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the former sometimes appears in English as Where Is Dad?, but you know what I am talking about.

The Korean original of Dad, Where Are You Going?, which began airing in January this year, was produced by Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation. It was about five celebrity fathers and their young children going on various trips around the country. The kids were lovely and cute and together with their handsome dads they captured the hearts of the people of South Korea. Ratings rose continuously as interactions between children and parents, as well as romance between the kids developed.

Being China's leading producers of variety and reality shows, Hunan TV was quick to spot the opportunity. It purchased the license from South Korea and aired its own version last month. The Chinese version also tops the ratings and became the most popular TV program in the country.

Fathers-and-kids shows have a special appeal in both South Korea and China as the two countries share a patriarchal culture, where males are the primary authority figures central to social organization, occupying roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property, and where fathers hold authority over women and children.

In a patriarchal society, men are considered breadwinners and women homemakers. This ideal has been undermined by the current economic situation where a single salary often cannot maintain the household expenses, but housework is still often considered the exclusive province of wives and mothers, especially in South Korea.

As the reliance on the patriarch as a provider weakens, his authority is now being challenged on the other front. "Korean fathers who cannot function without their wives how much of a 'place' do these fathers have in their families?" the original's show's poster wonders. "As children grow older, a father's role becomes more and more distant."

The show, in effect, represents the patriarch's chance for redemption, an opportunity for the father figure to reclaim his place at home. "The first time going on a trip by (fathers and sons) without mothers!" the poster continues. "Father and child will encounter obstacles large and small on overnight trips in the unfamiliar countryside far from civilization... with only each other for support, they will have a night to share their feelings."

All of this sounds quite alien to us in Hong Kong, where some men are willing to sacrifice their macho pride for a fast food-tolerant girlfriend even if it means being slapped fourteen times by the woman in public. But in the true spirit of "One Country and Two Systems" (and I am not being sarcastic here: Hong Kong is always considered a separate region as far as broadcasting rights are concerned), our TVB is also trying to shoot their own Dad, Where Are You Going?

Differences in gender relations aside, the lack of a Hong Kong presence in Hunan's version is worth contemplating. It leaves Jimmy Lin Chih-ying and his very cute son Kimi from across the Taiwan Straits capturing all the limelight - not a good thing for our "internal diplomacy". Nicholas Tse was once invited as a substitute for Guo Tao, as Guo's son had an arm injury, but Tse declined over a schedule conflict. Given his recent second divorce, perhaps Dad, Where Are You Going? is too cruel a joke for his kids.

There are quite a number of possible reasons why Hong Kong stars and their kids are not in the Hunan show. It would be awfully embarrassing if the Hong Kong kid cannot communicate with others because he cannot speak Putonghua well. It would also be horrible if the kid innocently utters things like "mom says food in the mainland is all bogus," "why is mainland so dirty?" or, God forbid, "Chinese locusts".

Now we begin to have an idea of where Hong Kong is going. Whereas Hunan TV is catering to an audience of 1.3 billion people, TVB will continue to serve its niche market of 7 million with quality Cantonese programs. The Hunan TV version has father and kids venturing all around the country, while TVB's version will also have a very exciting journey to the "countryside" - Lantau Island.

The author is a current affairs commentator.

(HK Edition 11/15/2013 page9)