TV DVD Review: Two Men in China (ABC TV, Australia, 2014)


One country. Two men. Three cities. Two Men In China sees friends- comedian and writer, John Doyle (who is best known as “Rampaging” Roy Slaven) and scientist and activist, Tim Flannery once again taking a trip. This is the pair’s first overseas sojourn as the two have previously travelled across the Great Divide as well as visiting the Murray River and the Top End. This series proves to be an engaging and mostly insightful look at Australia’s biggest trading partner, China.

The three-part documentary looks at the cities of: Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu (the capital of Sichuan) in more detail. The intrepid pair interview a diverse range of interviewees from traditional citizens and experts, to Australian expatriates along with the movers and shakers of new and booming industries. The series is full of Doyle’s provocative interview questions, observations and postulations as well as Flannery’s more sober and informative contributions. The two are a solid pair that share an easy camaraderie with one another, but in some scenes a little more context and variety would’ve helped (like when Chengdu is described as being known for the parks, bars and women).

Two Men In China occasionally covers some rather strange and untraditional ground. At times the behaviour of Doyle could possibly be interpreted by Chinese viewers as going a little too far at being the ocker Aussie taking the p**s. An example of this is when Doyle joins in during an outdoor tai chi class and starts inventing new moves like passing a football and playing a round of golf. It’s a fine line between being humorous and downright offensive to a different culture.

Thankfully, there are other scenes which prove to be more enlightening, like the frightening scene at the bear sanctuary where the barbaric process of collecting bear bile is described. This series does try to strike a balance between off-beat and serious topics and more colourful and funny ones. This means one scene could be about renewable energy and conservation and others can be about public match-making events and exclusive penis restaurants (not to mention the bonus scenes poking fun at the road handbook and the depiction of perhaps the only meat pie shop in the entire country).

Two Men In China is a difficult show to describe because it’s a real hodgepodge of different interviews and a heady mix of funny, silly and informative moments. At times this series captures the essence of this great and rapidly changing country thanks to the inquisitive enthusiasm exhibited by the two presenters, but at other times it does seem to miss the mark. In all, the show proves that China is one misunderstood and exotic mega power and a land full of wonderful contradiction and opportunity.


Two Men In China screened on ABC TV in Australia and is available now on DVD. Special Features were not reviewed.


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