iPartment (爱情公寓) is a sitcom from Mainland China, produced by Shanghai Film Studio. The title of the series translates into “The Apartment of Love” and the English name iPartment is a pun for the Chinese pronunciation of love, “ai”. Three seasons have been released since its first episode in August 2009, becoming one of the most popular Chinese comedy shows. The basic premise of the series is similar to that of the American sitcom Friends, detailing the lives of a group of friends in their mid-twenties who are all neighbors in an apartment building and the various shenanigans that they engage themselves in.
First off, I’d like to start off with a disclaimer. Due to the fact that I was first introduced to this show during a trip to China, I started off with the second season and have only seen a little bit of the first. However, like most comedy shows, most of the episodes are generally for entertainment purposes, with only a few contributing to the overall plot, so my negligence of the first season has not obscured my perception of the series. Furthermore, while both the second and the third season end with nail-biting cliffhangers, the first season thankfully didn’t utilize such a plot device, enabling me to begin with the second season.
I am no amateur when it comes to comedy shows, having seen most of the very popular sitcoms of American TV. However, iPartment is certainly the first Chinese comedy series that I have watched and I was most pleased by what I was presented with. Chinese humor is no doubt different from American humor – whereas a great deal of American sitcoms derive their entertainment from sexual humor, Chinese society is much more traditional and conservative, preventing any excessive use of sex jokes. However, while directly referencing sex is somewhat considered taboo, iPartment is highly popular among the younger college population and thus introduces jokes of a sexual nature in a highly roundabout fashion. Fear not, for it’s still pretty funny.
This is supposed to be funny. *insert laugh track*
A bit of bad news for non-Chinese speakers: iPartment does not seem to be available in subtitles, like most Asian dramas and series are. With a little bit of explanation, perhaps you’ll understand why: as mentioned earlier, Chinese humor is markedly different from American humor. A large part of the jokes used in the series often circles around puns of the Chinese language, jokes that couldn’t be explained or translated into subtitles. I must confess that even as a decently fluent Chinese speaker, I still sometimes have difficulty comprehending the jokes. However, the majority of the humor derives itself from entertaining situations or slapstick, so a subtitled version does not seem too far-fetched. As of yet though, no such version seems available.
Concerning the plot of iPartment: over the three seasons, while we see some focus on the career successes of each of the characters, the show still remains to be of a romantic nature (it’s not called “The Apartment of Love” for nothing). While the series is far from over (at least another season will be released), it’s not too hard to see that by the final episode, every single one of our characters will have found their soul-mate. In this respect, the series does get rather frustrating at time, where you’ll be shouting “KISS HER” repeatedly at the screen, only to find that the kiss will be delayed for an entire season. However, the romantic pairings that are illustrated in this show is actually quite superb – it’s just the right amount of awkward and chemistry to make it romantic, but not cheesy. It’s quite clear from the very beginning about who will ultimately end up with whom and no curveballs are thrown, but it’s all a matter of getting there. At least the series doesn’t drag on like How I Met Your Mother, which is scheduled for nine seasons.
Speaking of HIMYM, we arrive at the comedy aspect of the show. It’s good comedy and there’s no denying it. However, in the most recent season of iPartment, I began noticing many scenes that alluded to HIMYM. The first time I noticed it, I dismissed it off as being pure chance, but by the tenth scene, I was adamantly sure that someone(s) on the production team was definitely actively watching HIMYM. While the plots of these two sitcoms are about as different as night and day, iPartment borrows many of the jokes and gags used in HIMYM. Rest assured though, iPartment does utilize enough original content and humor to make these allusions forgivable (hopefully, the HIMYM legal team is of the same mindset). As evidence of their originality, iPartment pours more CGI and production value into their series than anything else I’ve ever seen, as the show has occasionally used fantasy and action plot-lines.
More computer editing than pics of airbrushed models.
Bottom line: it’s a pretty awesome series to watch. It’s got significantly more content than its American counterparts, using twenty 45-minute episodes instead of the conventional 20-minute episodes. Here’s the link to all the episodes: 爱情公寓.