three-body problem tv series tencent video

How to Watch Tencent’s Three-Body Problem: Streaming Episodes Free

Netflix’s show is available from March 21st but there’s a Tencent Three-Body Problem TV series available right now! Let’s look at how China adapted one of the best scifi books in recent years.

Is Tencent’s Three-Body Problem worth watching before, after or side-by-side with Netflix’s new blockbuster show? You decide but please, as a scifi fan, I’m begging you not to miss either adaptation! Ideally, you’ll delve into Tencent’s version first for the most faithful adaptation.

Tencent’s Three-Body Problem TV series is a cdrama with 30 episodes. A few are free (more on that later), and the rest will require a modest fee. 

First off, don’t confuse this adaptation with another Chinese one from Bilibili, because that one is terrible. I won’t go into details about why the Bilibili Three-Body Problem show is a skip, not a watch, because this article is all about the fantastic Tencent show.

But first, some context about the book if you’re new to this universe. 

Most critics and watchers noted that Tencent’s 3 Body is very faithful to the book.

The story kicks off with a series of prominent scientists who begin killing themselves for unexplained reasons. In parallel, you have a mysterious organization dedicated to a mysterious game. A cop who seems to be in over his head is putting everything together.

All of this hangs under the heavy question of what would happen to us if physics wasn’t real. It’s a heavy question if you come to think about it but it’s probably one of the lighter ones in the book. Cixin Liu’s which isn’t by any means an easy read and will require you to follow along with some difficult physics concepts. What made it successful is that it’s also a very emotional book that packs a lot of gut punches. Advanced physics, our role in the universe and how each person relates to humanity as a species? There are some huge moral dilemmas in this story.

The Three-Body Problem book poses two chilling hypotheses and follows them to the bitter end.

What is the Three-Body Problem theory?

Here’s what the book revolves around:

When the members of the Frontiers of Science discussed physics, they often used the abbreviation “SF.” They didn’t mean “science fiction,” but the two words “shooter” and “farmer.” This was a reference to two hypotheses, both involving the fundamental nature of the laws of the universe.

In the shooter hypothesis, a good marksman shoots at a target, creating a hole every ten centimeters. Now suppose the surface of the target is inhabited by intelligent, two-dimensional creatures. Their scientists, after observing the universe, discover a great law: “There exists a hole in the universe every ten centimeters.” They have mistaken the result of the marksman’s momentary whim for an unalterable law of the universe.

The farmer hypothesis, on the other hand, has the flavor of a horror story: Every morning on a turkey farm, the farmer comes to feed the turkeys. A scientist turkey, having observed this pattern to hold without change for almost a year, makes the following discovery: “Every morning at eleven, food arrives.” On the morning of Thanksgiving, the scientist announces this law to the other turkeys. But that morning at eleven, food doesn’t arrive; instead, the farmer comes and kills the entire flock.

Tantalizing, right?

This is what The Three-Body Problem book is about – at least in the beginning. This is the first book in a trilogy signed by Cixin Liu, an author that can rightly be called a titan of scifi literature, joining the ranks of Asimov, Heinlein or Ellison.

Tencent’s 3-Body Problem follows the book closely

And the adaptation, the Tencent version, is incredibly faithful. This is a scifi series that’s cerebral, not flashy. While it does have some special effects, it doesn’t go for cheap action and thrills like most modern scifi. Instead, it develops at a slow pace, leaving you to ponder about the farmer and the shooter hypothesis and to undergo a terrifying journey alongside its characters. What if we are turkeys and physics isn’t real? The Tencent Three-Body Problem series explores this scenario with lots of care for the source material – something rare in Western adaptations.

Fans are already celebrating it, including yours truly, who has only read the first book of the trilogy so far. The show was distributed on Tencent Video, a streaming service available in China, but they surprisingly made it free on YouTube in the west.

You can watch Tencent’s 3-Body there, and the English subtitles are very well done.

If you look at the praise in the comments and the 8.7 score on IMDB, it’s clear Tencent Video has a hit on their hands and it will be interesting to see how Netflix will differentiate its own offerings.

Directed by Lei Yang and adapted by Liangliang Tian, the Tencent version of Three-Body Problem stars Luyi Zhang as Wang Miao, Kenan Heppe as Mike Evans, Hewei Yu as Shi Qiang, Xiaoran Li as Sheng Yufei, and Ji Chen as Ye Wenjie among others.

Tencent’s Three-Body Problem – Is the slower pace a turnoff?

What is amazing and a new concept for Western audiences, who are used to shows having limited runs of only 10 episodes, is the fact that The Three-Body Problem from Tencent dedicates 30 whole episodes for just the first book alone.

That means that not only do they have a faithful adaptation, dedicating an entire 40 minute episode for every 10 pages of the Three-Body Problem book, but they can also expand on the plot or introduce new characters.

However, this also poses a problem for those unused to watching cdramas: lots of filler content. Whereas Netflix’s Three-Body Problem will probably be a wham-bam adventure that skips and condenses lots of storylines to keep the show catchy, this one spends a looot of time on character reactions. To actually reach those 40 minutes of content from such a small book, Tencent did use plenty of filler, keeping character reaction shots and some scenes unnecessarily long, and, in some cases, reusing footage. And yes, the English-speaking characters are cringeworthy but really, how well does Hollywood depict foreign countries and accents?

Anyway, the difference between Netflix’s 3 Body and Tencent’s adaptation is clear even watching a single minute of the trailers

Compare Netflix’s 3-Body trailer with Tencent’s and you’ll get whiplash from the speed of everything!

Most people who stopped watching Tencent’s Three-Body Problem did so because of that slow pacing but trust me, hang on for three or four episodes and you’ll be hooked. It’s unusual to see a series where plot developments happen in the after scenes but, even though you might be new to cdrama, try to keep watching and you’ll be rewarded.

Cixin Liu’s Three-Body Problem book is one of the most revolutionary scifi series to come out in decades. While the show might feel slow-paced, it’s clear the creators wanted to remain faithful to the pensive mood and vision established by the book.

What’s amazing is that the Three-Body Problem Tencent adaptation doesn’t stray at all for the source material and even includes the Cultural Revolution critique from the book. If you read the book, you probably wondered if the Three-Body Problem Cultural Revolution content, a biting showcase of everything that went wrong in China’s new ideology, was cut from the series. 

No, Tencent’s Three Body Problem adaptation didn’t cut that content, they just use it in flashbacks later on in the series. It might seem like a risky move considering the political climate but the show creators deserve applause for keeping this context.

Where to watch Three-Body Problem: Tencent’s version

Here are the two episodes of the Three-Body Problem you can watch for free. If you enjoy them, you can subscribe to Tencent Video on YouTube and get all the rest of the episodes for free. In our part of the world, subscribing is about $2 per month, so that’s an incredible deal to watch so much content.

All the Three-Body Problem episodes are already out, so you can binge – although it might ruin the surprise if you get ahead of Netflix’s show. As was the case with most Cdramas, new episodes dropped almost daily, which was a fantastic way to be engaged with this story. If only Netflix would do the same!

If you like these first free episodes, please consider paying for a subscription for the rest of them/ The show makers did say that a season 2 of Tencent’s 3-Body Problem will only happen if this first one is profitable. 

Three-Body Problem Episode 1

Three-Body Problem Episode 2

Considering that Dark Forest, the sequel, is a much heavier story and will need a bigger budget for special effects, it will take a lot of support from fans to persuade investors to pursue it. Depending on the region, it costs no more than $3-$5 to watch the first season of Tencent’s Three-Body Problem. 

If you can afford to, please show some support for this series, since it was clearly a labor of love.

What do you think, will you watch Tencent’s adaptation side by side with the Netflix series? I believe it’s a wonderful opportunity to see how different filmmakers, from different cultures, approach the same source material.

Also read: Upcoming Scifi Movies In 2023: The Franchises We’re Most Excited About

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