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TV reviews: Running Man star Song Ji Hyo "dates" Taiwan's Chen Bo-lin in We Are In Love

Headline actors Chen Bo-lin and Song Ji Hyo on We Are In Love. Ji Sung shines with the magnetism of a rock star in Entertainer.
Headline actors Chen Bo-lin and Song Ji Hyo on We Are In Love. PHOTOS: SINGTEL TV, ONE
Headline actors Chen Bo-lin and Song Ji Hyo on We Are In Love. Ji Sung shines with the magnetism of a rock star in Entertainer.
Ji Sung shines with the magnetism of a rock star in Entertainer.PHOTOS: SINGTEL TV, ONE

Believable acting saves the day in Chinese dating show We Are In Love and K-pop drama Entertainer

Are you a true believer in love? Are you a die-hard romantic?

Do you believe that love is a magic seed that sprouts, flowers and thrives in the manufactured artifice of reality television?

That actors - professional pretenders - surrounded by cameras, scenery and sponsored comforts, will develop a genuine closeness with each other?

Well, you will like We Are In Love, a Chinese dating show that pulls off the trick of being extremely fake and yet real enough.

Chemistry is one of the great mysteries of human relations, after all, and the stunt casting here - the pairing of funny South Korean girl Song Ji Hyo (Running Man) with gentle Taiwanese guy Chen Bo-lin (In Time With You, 2011), for instance - feels like a crazy experiment to examine the matter.

It is so crazy that you want to watch the stars under a microscope and catch love growing between them, or not.

  • VIEW IT / WE ARE IN LOVE

  • Jiangsu Satellite Channel (Singtel TV Channel 512), Sundays, 8.20pm

    3/5 stars

    ENTERTAINER

    One (StarHub TV Channel 820 or Singtel TV Channel 513), Thursday and Friday, 8.10pm

    2.5 stars

Admittedly, the adaptation of the Korean show We Got Married might seem a pale imitation of a K-drama at first glance.

In early episodes of the current season, much of the romance of the dates involving good-looking people and soft lighting feels forced and the reliance on mood-setting K-pop seems futile.

Song, 34, and Chen, 32, go on a cutesy, stagey blind date - which starts with them being separated by a partition in an old-fashioned Korean house and exchanging gifts through a hole - and it's the most promising part of the first episode.

Chinese actress Li Qin, 25, and actor Wei Daxun, 27, meet in a cable car and their date goes downhill when he comes on too strong.

Chinese actress Zhou Dongyu, 24, and Hong Kong actor Shawn Yue, 34, play basketball awkwardly.

They also highlight an uncomfortable cradle-snatching aspect of their relationship when they agree that her nickname for him will be "Uncle Six".

But over months, as the pairs evolve, a fascinating picture of dating dynamics emerges.

Although Song and Chen seem to have a romcom-worthy spark in their early encounters, it fizzles out, possibly because they don't really speak each other's language and have interpreters whispering in their ears all the time.

A distance widens between them even though, as the biggest names on the show, they get to go for an extravagant couple's holiday to Finland.

Li and Wei, who are less famous, have fewer perks.

They lock horns over tasks they perform on the show. She is sensible, he is sensitive and they look like a real team even, or especially, when they are squabbling.

Zhou and Yue may be the most surprising pair. The Chinese Internet is atwitter with speculation after the duo's sluggish dates suddenly accelerate to the point where they are draped all over each other, viewing a sunrise in quiet contentment.

It may be for real or they might be faking it. Believe what you will.

Me, I believe in actors. A fine one can transform a show from a don't-watch to a can-watch, which is what Ji Sung does for Entertainer, an otherwise anaemic K-pop drama.

The show centres on a high-flier (Ji Sung) in a music management company who has been humbled by an unexpected failure and is making a comeback with a band comprising boy musicians.

The boys are pretty. There is some ugly unfinished business about a sexual assault allegation and a homicide, which threatens to drag on for 18 episodes.

But it all fades away when Ji Sung takes centre stage. An actor of amazing agility, he played a man with a split personality in Kill Me, Heal Me (2015).

In Entertainer, he plays a manager with the magnetism of a rock star, the fierceness of a fighter and the tenderness of a dreamer.

In the sixth episode, he has to convince himself to grovel to a TV producer and he runs through a range of emotions - from cheerful aggression to self-effacing affection.

The man has many faces and all of them are mesmerising.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Smitten by the great pretenders'. Print Edition | Subscribe