New series ‘Being a Hero’ shines spotlight on China’s anti-drug police
True to life
Published: Aug 28, 2022 07:35 PM
Promotional material for <em>Being a Hero</em> Photo: Courtesy of A Nan

Promotional material for Being a Hero Photo: Courtesy of A Nan

Day and night, from torrid and moist rainforests to the crowded streets of frontier towns, Chinese anti-drug police constantly work to track and take down drug dealers despite the risk to their own lives.

This is the most frequent scene in the newly released TV series Being a Hero, directed by Fu Dongyu and starring Chinese actors Wang Yibo, Chen Xiao and Liu Yijun. Following Fu's previous successful work The Thunder, the series continues his focus on the frontline fighters in the war against drugs along China's borders.

According to a June 2021 report from China's Ministry of Public Security, from 2017 to 2020, a total of 397,000 drug-related cases were solved in the Chinese mainland. Additionally, since 2017, 33 anti-drug policemen have died in the line of duty, according to the People's Daily.

Anti-drug police have one of the most dangerous jobs among police in China.

The series airing on video platform Youku since August 11 has won audience acclaim with its vivid depiction of harsh drug crackdown efforts and the heroic image of Chinese anti-drug police.

"What makes Being a Hero particularly appealing is the thrilling interweaving of various clues," Liu, who plays one of protagonists of the series, told the Global Times.

Five years prior to the show's beginning, Wu Gang was killed by a drug trafficking organization named "K" and his son Wu Zhenfeng (Chen Xiao) was expelled from the police force. Feeling utterly lost, Wu boards a bus to travel along China's borders, while his best friend Chen Yu (Wang Yibo) chases after him relentlessly. Along the way, the two are almost kidnapped. While saving his best friend Chen, Wu is taken away by the drug traffickers and all contact with him is lost. 

When the two meet again, Chen has become a narcotics policeman while Wu is now a famed murder suspect known by the nickname "Addict Lord." Ignoring public dissension, Chen sets out to find the truth and clear Wu's name, but he gradually discovers that Wu's return has another purpose. 

The main story of the series surrounds the two best friends and two forces, narcotics police and drug dealers, as they all engage in a fierce life-and-death struggle that includes numerous acts of subterfuge such as sending people undercover into the enemy's camp.

Liu told the Global Times that while filming the series, the chief director's most important request was to be real, meaning that he wanted every scene and all storylines in the work to remain as close to the reality of a narcotics police officer as possible.

Liu mentioned a fighting scene involving Wang, who plays Chen in the series. In the scene, Wang needed to fight against his opponent during a rainy night. However, the scene took three days to shoot, so Wang had to wear wet clothes and fall down on the ground countless times to get the scene completed to the director's satisfaction.

Many similar scenes took a lot of time to be completed for the series, Liu noted, and because of that, he thinks the show surpasses the quality of Fu's previous work The Thunder as it has more splendid moments that are sure to surprise audiences.

Yan Wei, deputy director of the Editorial Department of the China Television Arts Commission, commented that anti-drug dramas are required to follow the themes of maintaining social order, curbing illegal crimes and enhancing understanding of the legal system. So creators must balance the relationship between these requirements and giving the audience what they want. 

There are plenty of scenes of explosions and fights, which on the one hand can depict anti-drug police's professionalism and willingness to sacrifice themselves, on the other hand can test the director's capability to capture reality as art, Yan said.

Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film critic, told the Global Times that serious themes do not have to conflict with a show's goal to entertain audiences. Since themes such as drug prevention are unfamiliar to the general audience, the closer to the truth a show gets, the more spectacular they will feel.

"If such works on the screen can stay real, tell a great story and feature splendid roles, they are sure to attract more viewers," Shi said.