Travel & Living in Hanoi, Vietnam
The cheesiest programme on Vietnamese telly has had a makeover for 2020, and I am not totally convinced by the changes.
As is often the case, a bigger budget doesn’t always signal better. And that’s what’s happened with Chúng tôi là chiến sẽ (We are soldiers), which is so bad it’s brilliant.
If you haven’t caught up with this Vietnam’s-military-has-talent hybrid, don’t delay. Tune in just before 8pm on Fridays on VTV 3 to find out what you have been missing. Put it like this, if Vietnam is challenged to a dance battle by China, we are sound.
Before the 2020 upgrade, Chúng tôi là chiến sẽ was not quite so shiny (see the new opening titles), or quite so studio-bound as it is now. Each week was a different arm of the military in a different location. There was also a lot more outdoor action, normally involving some high-pitched female singer making a complete arse of abseiling down the side of a building or assembling a piece of kit out in the field.
One of the highlights, for me, was the assault course. This was knocked together with whatever happened to be at hand. Thus in one province famed for its plants, we had an assault course that featured hapless squaddies negotiating various obstacles while trying to balance plants on a shoulder carrier (quang gánh). Literally fell about at that.
Another night quite recently, the assault course’s ultimate challenge was to throw darts at a board while wearing a full-face gas mask.
Now, however, this rough and ready ad hoc-ery has been replaced by a studio assault course that’s the same each week. Curiously, the female singers are still in on the action. Though now as judges, it would seem, with their particular attention being paid when the soldiers strip down to their boxers for the final underwater obstacles.
Some segments of the show remain familiar. Each episode opens with a khaki-clad dance group strutting their stuff and rolling about on the floor. Then we have a minute or two of officers being introduced and saluting. I suspect this is going to be edited out soon.
Overseeing the action are the presenters, Hoàng Linh and Đức Bảo. They, too, wear a military uniform for reasons that have never been apparent, to me at least. They also get to hand out the prizes at the end, specially-commissioned wall clocks. Just the thing you need as you while away your two years of national service.
One new segment, meanwhile, took me a week or two to figure out what the hell was happening. To be fair, this happens a lot with Chúng tôi là chiến sẽ. After a couple of episodes, I have decided the aim is to figure out which of the civvie-clad young men are soldiers on the basis of a series of questions that often are answered in song.
Believe it or not, I am not making any of this up. Go check for yourself next Friday.