Review: Chinese Burn, BBC3

A few months ago I was asked by a national newspaper to set up an interview with a famous English comedian. They became particularly keen when I told them he was learning Chinese for a future role. It seemed as if they were thinking less about their readers in Basingstoke and more about their readers in Beijing. Could this be their chance to attract more subscribers in the Far East?

I don’t know if China has access to BBC3 programmes but the same thought occurred to me watching the new one-off pilot Chinese Burn. Is this the BBC’s attempt to attract Chinese viewers at home but also away?

If it is then foreign viewers are probably going to be seeing a side of London life they don’t expect. Chinese Burn follows the exploits of three very modern young women trying to make their way in the capital. Outspoken aspiring actor Jackie (Yennis Cheung), wannabe sommelier Elizabeth (Shin-Fei Chen) and dreamy rich kid Fufu (Yuyu Rau), who absorbs different cultures like a sponge – one moment she is breakdancing, the next she’s an orthodox Jew and dressing like a rabbi.

The situations they get into are pretty relatable though. Jackie is fed up with being cast as prostitutes, Elizabeth is having to earn a crust walking the streets advertising tea - dressed as a teapot. 

And, of course, there are their problems with men. The programme includes onscreen footnotes for the slang they use. DAGS stands for Desperate Asian Guys – the kind who try to come across all smooth but end up coming across all obvious. 

Somehow Chinese Burn, written by co-stars Cheung and Chen, manages to perpetuate stereotypes – the men tend to be pretty familiar jerks – while at the same time subvert them. I wonder if it would have been made in a pre-Fleabag world. It doesn’t always feel quite as original as it thinks it is – Jackie’s audition scene could have come from half a dozen past comedies – but it is good to see some fresh faces onscreen (as well as Felicity Montagu from Alan Partridge) and there’s no denying that the half hour pilot zips by in a flash. 

Watch here.

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