Thinking out of the box

Star actress Yang Mi turns her hand to a new TV format


Over 200 million people watched Yang Mi’s new show Great Escape

Originating in Japan, the first real-life ‘escape room’ was created by a company called Scrap in Kyoto in 2007. The adventure game puts people in different scenarios – think hijacked planes and sinking submarines – and asks them to solve clues to find a way out from their confined spaces before time runs out.

Escape rooms started to become popular in China a few years later. As of the end of 2018, there were nearly 10,700 of them across the country, according to the China Daily. Most of the players are aged between 20 and 35, says Meituan Research Institute.

Mango TV, the online streaming platform of the commercially savvy Hunan Satellite TV, is going after the same demographic with another reality series, this one based on the games played in escape rooms.

The second season of Great Escape, which was released in early July, was an immediate hit, accumulating more than 200 million views for its first two episodes, and toppling Sisters Who Make Waves, another reality show produced by Mango TV (see WiC500), as the most watched series last week.

Every week the format puts actress and mega-influencer Yang Mi and four other celebrities, including heartthrob Deng Lun and singer Da Zhang Wei, into unsettling situations. The first episode created a horror movie atmosphere, for instance, with flickering lights, looming shadows and a room that physically shook.

Great Escape combines three dramatic elements: an immersive story, suspense and horror,” explained NetEase Entertainment, a portal. “This season the producers added more horror elements. All the celebrity guests are being scared to death, which is enough to make audiences laugh.”

Other reality TV formats focus on performances or physical challenges, but Great Escape is a test of the brain. “The show is about solving puzzles. So each episode, there are lots of secrets to unlock and figure out. Audiences also get the full experience because not only do they experience all the stimulations of an escape room, they can also try to solve the problems alongside the stars,” noted Guangming Daily.

Yang has won praise for her own performance. “On the one hand, like a lot of women, she is easily scared… But she also solves a lot of the puzzles and brings humour to the show,” Entertainment Unicorn commented.

Deng has amused viewers for being the jumpiest in the group. “Deng Lun screaming at the top of his lungs makes you chuckle. Of course, it’s normal to be afraid, but every time you see Deng so scared, he makes you laugh because he is so over-the-top. But I must say, he really knows when to use his brain too. He manages to analyse the clues logically and figure out the answers,” opined Tencent Entertainment.

Others say the show has given them the much-needed adrenaline rush of the real thing. “I haven’t been to an escape room for several months because of the pandemic. The series helps me relive the excitement and the nervousness I experience when playing the games, ” one netizen said.

For Mango TV, the series is not just a win when it comes to the number of online views. Entertainment Unicorn reports that once filming has wrapped, the studio plans to open the set – an 11-storey building covering 20,000 square metres in Guangzhou – to the paying public. “It is going to be the largest escape-room destination in the country,” Entertainment Unicorn predicted.

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