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    It’s China’s Biggest New Sitcom. It’s Also 5 Minutes Long.

    The new comedy “Take Me Home” has become a smash hit by reinventing premium TV for China’s version of TikTok.

    The comedy “Take Me Home,” produced by Douyin, China's version of TikTok, isn’t just the biggest show in China right now. Its producers believe it could change the way the country — and, one day, perhaps even the world — consumes TV.

    The show has the look and feel of a major movie: a generous budget, A-list cast, and lavish production values. But there’s a twist — the action is divided into tiny, five-minute-long episodes to be viewed on Douyin.

    For Douyin, the aim is to reinvent premium filmmaking for the TikTok generation, fusing the glamor of the movies with the frenetic pace of a short video to keep its young users engaged.

    “Take Me Home” is effectively a test case for the new genre, which Douyin is calling “premium short drama.” So far, the early signs have been promising.

    The first episode racked up over 1 million views within an hour of its release on Douyin on Sunday. As of Monday, it has received nearly 20 million views and 370,000 likes on the platform.

    Presented by Stephen Chow — the Hong Kong filmmaker best known for “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle” — the show tells the story of a trainee lawyer who discovers that her sister is falling victim to a “pig butchering scam,” a scam in which criminals form romantic relationships with their victims and then convince them to hand over large sums of money.

    Divided into 24 episodes each with a runtime of around five minutes, the comedy follows many of the conventions of Chinese “ultrashort dramas” — cheap, telenovela-style dramas filmed for short video platforms like Douyin that are hugely popular in China.

    Like many ultrashort dramas, “Take Me Home” zips along at a dizzying pace. The characters are brash, over-the-top, and constantly clashing. Screeching plot twists abound.

    The humor often comes from topical one-liners fired off amid the action. In the early episodes, there are references to everything from the Fukushima nuclear wastewater scandal and American mass shootings to the Chinese tech industry’s brutal “996” work culture.

    But “Take Me Home” does look and feel different from a typical ultrashort drama. Though it’s fast-paced and exaggerated — the whole thing was reportedly filmed in 13 days — it has more depth than other made-for-Douyin shows, which are notoriously trashy.

    The production values are also noticeably higher. Unlike most ultrashort dramas, which are filmed vertically so that they are easy to watch on a smartphone, “Take Me Home” sticks to the traditional horizontal format.

    “Our core creative team are all filmmakers, and the shooting … was done according to the requirements of making a movie,” Yi Xiaoxing, the show’s executive producer, told domestic media.

    The show has sparked heated discussion on Chinese social media. Many viewers have praised the show, especially the quality of the production. “It can be called a movie, and it’s much better than other ultrashort dramas on the platform,” read one highly upvoted comment on Douyin.

    Others said they appreciated the show’s efforts to touch on hot-button issues in China, such as pig butchering scams and the country’s much-mocked “hopeless romantics.” With a male lead from the Chinese mainland and a female lead from Taiwan, Yi has even claimed that “Take Me Home” can help promote cross-Strait harmony.

    But there have also been voices of dissent. Many viewers have expressed dislike for the show’s style of humor, which they claim is quite different to Chow’s other work. Some have blamed the influence of executive producer Yi, who made his name in China by creating zany, low-budget series for video platforms like Youku.

    Whether the show will prove to be a lasting success remains to be seen. With its big-name producers and star cast, which includes the famous standup comedian Xu Zhisheng, “Take Me Home” was always likely to have a big opening week.

    There are also uncertainties over the show’s business model. Most ultrashort dramas generate the bulk of their revenue by hooking viewers with a few free episodes and then convincing them to pay to watch the rest. But “Take Me Home” is totally free, relying purely on advertising to make money.

    But Douyin is already pressing ahead with more “premium short dramas.” In January, the company announced a strategy to cooperate with production companies on high-quality shows, promising to provide millions of dollars in funding and to promote the shows heavily on the Douyin platform.

    Chow’s company has reportedly already signed a cooperation deal with Douyin, which will likely see the two sides co-produce several short dramas. Other big names entering the market include the prolific Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Jing.

    It’s easy to see why filmmakers are interested. China’s ultrashort drama market has exploded in recent years. In 2023, the industry was reportedly worth 37.4 billion yuan ($5.2 billion), up nearly 270% year over year. This year, it is predicted to surpass 50 billion yuan, which isn’t far off China’s total box office.

    But the industry has also started attracting scrutiny from Chinese regulators, with many dramas deemed obscene and banned as a result. This is likely another reason why Douyin is pivoting to “premium” shows.

    In April, China introduced a new supervision system for ultrashort dramas that requires every new show to pass through vetting before release. On Saturday, the day the new system came into effect, over 3,300 ultrashort dramas were approved for release, most of them tiny productions with a budget under 300,000 yuan.

    Additional reporting: Li Dongxu.

    (Header image: A poster for the comedy “Take Me Home.” From Douban)