Hit Chinese TV series based on real-life cases arouses nationwide interest in crackdown on organized crime
Taking on the gangs
Published: Aug 25, 2021 06:13 PM
Lin Hao played by Zhang Yixing (left) and 
Li Chengyang played by Sun Honglei 
Photo: Courtesy of Tencent Video

Lin Hao played by Zhang Yixing (left) and Li Chengyang played by Sun Honglei Photo: Courtesy of Tencent Video

By depicting storylines based on several real-life cases that shook the nation, Crime Crackdown, one of the most popular TV series in the summer of 2021, has ignited Chinese viewers' interest in efforts to tackle organized crime launched by the Chinese government in 2018.

Under the guidance of the Committee of Political and Legal Affairs of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the 28-episode TV series follows a national anti-gang supervising group and local police officers as they take on gangs and the corrupt officials that offer these illegal groups a "protective umbrella."

The first 22 episodes of the series, starring actors Sun Honglei and Zhang Yixing and actresses Wu Yue and Jiang Shuying, have earned a 7.8/10 on Chinese media review platform Douban from more than 140,000 reviews and nearly 2.2 billion views on Chinese streaming platform Tencent Video. 

Most audience reviews have praised the series for its realistic storytelling and many splendid characters that reviewers find are a cut above those appearing in other police shows. 

One of the major draws of the show is how it has adapted several real-life criminal cases, including that of convicted criminal Sun Xiaoguo, the murder mystery surrounding a body that was discovered buried in a school playground in Central China's Hunan Province and illegal loan practices - especially so-called "nude" loans which request women to provide naked photos as collateral for loans on some online lending platforms.

A hit is born

Li Eryun, general producer of the series, told the Global Times that shows or films about efforts to combat organized crime are still a rare sight in China. 

"Shows in this genre may appear once every two or three years because they are difficult to write." 

Li and the show's other general producer Huang Xing jumped at the chance to produce such a show in May 2019, a time when the case of criminal Sun Xiaoguo had become the center of public discussion.

Originally serving a 20-year sentence, Sun was released from prison eight years earlier. Sun was later arrested on other charges and during the investigation it was discovered that his mother and stepfather had arranged the early release by bribing prison officials. Sun was later executed in February 2020 in Southwest China's Yunnan Province for gang-related crimes. 

Apart from the case, Li and Huang researched other organized crime cases such as that of Huang Hongfa in South China's Hainan Province, whose gang monopolized local entertainment venues and farming markets for 30 years.

The two general producers received support from the Committee of Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC Central Committee, which gave them access to case files so that they could write scripts for the show. 

They also traveled around the country to collect more first-hand information about these cases from the authorities who investigated them.

Huang noted that their goal was to make a series that carried out its social responsibilities while also being entertaining. 

"This genre has to bear the mission of paying tribute to anti-gang heroes, as well as informing the public about how the crackdown on gangs was carried out and what accomplishments were achieved," Huang said, noting that this had to be accomplished while also meeting the entertainment needs of audiences.

Secret to success

According to the two producers and the show's director Wu Bai, the success of the series comes down to their handling of even the smallest details, even something as simple as a mug.

One detail that many viewers have delighted in discussing on social media is a pink vacuum mug that one character carries with him. 

The character Da Jiang is a gang member with a long scar on his face, but contrasting with his atrocious image, he often is seen holding a pink mug in hand when appearing on screen, leaving audiences to wonder if there is another more romantic side to him. 

Another example is the character Dong, a corrupt official whose hair turns white from stress. 

The idea came from an observation Wu made while watching a video of a trial. Wu noticed that a week after the trial began, the defendant had a streak of white hair in his dark hair a week after the trial began, and after a month, half of his hair had turned white. Three months later, his hair had become completely white.

As the series was filmed in Central China's Hunan Province, the Hunan Provincial Committee of Political and Legal Affairs of the CPC also joined in on perfecting certain details.

The director noted that committee officials established a WeChat chat group with the production team so the crew could revise some mistakes discovered in the scripts.

"They replied no matter what time it was," Wu said.