Police drama makes for arresting viewing
Realistic approach to tackling crime sees TV series win praise for acting and plotlines, Xue Mengchen and Xu Fan report.
Bomb explosions. Gun fights. Car chases down narrow alleys. Such adrenaline-filled scenes often pop into our minds when picturing a crime movie or TV drama.
However, the actual police officers’ work to hunt criminals is a more time-consuming yet less dramatic procedure most of the time, as observed by the creators behind The Dragnet, a TV series that has recently made a splash online.
Backed by the Ministry of Public Security, the 38-episode television drama now available on the streaming giant iQiyi is based on several real stories of Chinese police officers’ overseas operations to tackle crime.
Currently, the drama has notched up 8.6 points out of 10 on iQiyi and 7.6 points on the popular review site Douban, with its major audience being men aged from 30 to 35, according to the producers.
Teaming up a dozen veterans, such as actor Wu Gang and Simon Yam, as well as actresses Ke Lan and Yu Feihong, the series has seen directors Yu Chun and Lyu Zibo join hands to shoot for more than six months from late 2019 to mid-2020.
The TV drama traces three cases in detail: persuading witnesses to return to China; transnational telecommunication fraud and assisting local law enforcement personnel to crack down on Chinese immigrant gangsters.
Producer Li Xiaoning says the creators spent two years reading, studying and watching documentaries, as well as interviewing police officers who have participated in overseas assignments to get firsthand information.
“We have heard many interesting stories. In foreign countries, Chinese police officers don’t have law enforcement power. They need to overcome a lot of obstacles, varying from language barriers to cultural gaps, and seek help from Chinese embassies to establish cooperation with local police forces,” says Li.
Chinese police officers who are assigned to overseas tasks are usually highly educated, speak English fluently and master knowledge of the law in foreign countries, Li adds.
Director Yu, a veteran who has worked in the television industry for more than a decade, says he and Lyu set out to be as realistic as possible before shooting.
“One of the top rules that Chinese police officers should follow is that they must comply with local laws and regulations. So, it usually takes a lot of time in negotiations,” says Yu, explaining that the TV series, as a result, has more dialogue than action sequences.
Ke Lan, a veteran actress who plays a female police officer, says she had online talks with the archetype of her character to gain more inspiration.
“She is a brilliant woman and an outstanding police officer. Through the video chats, I saw she has a tiny mole on her face, so I drew one on my face, too. When I was shooting the TV series, this tiny mole always reminded me to think that if I were her, what my reactions would be like,” she says.
With its popularity online, the TV series has also gripped the attention of industry observers and researchers.
Yin Hong, deputy chairman of the China Film Association and a professor at Tsinghua University, says The Dragnet marks a breakthrough in highlighting Chinese police’s overseas campaigns.
“The rise of China on the world stage has laid a realistic foundation for TV tales to display Chinese security force’s effort to protect the safety of Chinese nationals overseas, making such stories convincing and relatable,” says Yin.
Wang Yichuan, chairman of the China Literature and Art Critics Association, says The Dragnet exemplifies local talents’ new effort to expand storytelling techniques of re-creating China’s overseas missions, regarding it as the latest successful work following previous similar-themed blockbusters such as the 2016 film Operation Mekong.
“With a sophisticated blending of suspense and realistic details, the drama has demonstrated Chinese police officers’ wit and courage, reflecting China’s determination to battle against crime and protect national security,” he says.
With a sophisticated blending of suspense and realistic details, the drama has demonstrated Chinese police officers’ wit and courage.”
Wang Yichuan, chairman, China Literature and Art Critics Association