Promotional material for Murders on the Pacific Ocean featuring Zhang Yi (left) and Wang Xuebing.
Waves wash the side of the boat while fishermen gamble and curse loudly. Suddenly, someone screams: "Murder! Murder!"
This is the prologue for Murders on the Pacific Ocean, the latest radio drama broadcast on qingting.fm, one of China's largest online audio platforms.
Hundreds of comments praising the drama can be found under the latest releases on the platform.
According to Zhang Hao, head of the platform's Strategic Content Department, Murders has so far attracted more than 5 million listeners since its mid-November debut - a rather impressive number for a radio drama in China, where the growth of radio as a traditional medium has slowed as new media platforms keep growing.
Radio dramas in China
"Radio dramas appeared [in the Chinese mainland] as early as the 1980s," Zhang told the Global Times on December 9.
"Though there were successful works previously, like Criminal Police 803, its development in recent years has been uneventful as radio itself has been experiencing many ups and downs," he said.
While radio drama is not uncommon in Western countries, according to the 2016 Working Report from the Radio Drama Society of China, in the Chinese mainland it usually features lesser-known plays supported by Internet literature fan clubs or cliché dramas produced by traditional radio stations that either tell stories based on Chinese history or extol good deeds and social virtues.
"When local radio stations produce dramas today, many are aiming to win several major prizes in the industry, therefore they usually go with stories like those [that are cliché] because they stand a better chance at winning an award," Guo Liang, vice president of qingting.fm, told the Global Times on December 9.
Nowadays, apart from traditional producers, online audio platforms featuring a combination of traditional radio channels and self-produced audio content are also throwing their hats in the ring. The success of Murders - co-produced by qingting.fm, the Chinese language version of Esquire (a US men's magazine) and Le Vision Pictures - might help turn the tide toward radio plays less concerned with awards and more concerned with commercial success.
More than a story
Boasting an audio production team that brings together some of the best names in the industry and a cast boasting big name TV and film actors Zhang Yi and Wang Xuebing, the radio play is based on an Esquire feature about the chilling crime that saw 11 crew members of the Chinese fishing boat Lurongyu 2682 murder the 22 other crew members in 2011.
While crime thrillers are one of the most-liked genres on the audio platform, Guo and Zhang emphasized that they were determined right from the start to handle the material with caution. They didn't want to treat the infamous event as some random brutal oddity, but a rather serious event with social consequences.
This is why they brought in professionals to provide guidance and ensure objectivity - Li Meijing, a criminal expert from the People's Public Security University of China, and Du Qiang, the feature's writer.
"We want to offer something more than the shallow shell of a story to our listeners. We want the chance to explore the truth of human nature that lies behind this brutal tragedy," said Guo. "It would be great if this quality work could help draw public attention to the life and mental state of fishermen."
Some industry insiders see Murders as the industry's entry into the Chinese mainland's booming IP adaptation market in order to compete with visual content providers, including TV stations and online streaming platforms.