Netflix’s high-profile plan to have Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss adapt the bestselling Chinese sci-fi books The Three-Body Problem has been hit by a scandalous attempted-murder plot in Shanghai.
Netflix acquired the rights to produce the big-budget English-language adaptation of the hit books from Chinese company Yoozoo Group and its subsidiary Three-Body Universe, which previously had acquired the rights to the properties.
Yoozoo Group’s chairman, Lin Qi, who is credited as a producer on the Netflix series alongside Benioff, Weiss and others, was hospitalized after having been poisoned on Dec. 16, according to a statement released Wednesday by the Shanghai police. Local authorities have apprehended a suspect, surnamed Xu, whom they believe to be responsible for the poisoning.
Lin subsequently died on Christmas Day, local outlets report. He was 39.
The suspect Xu, 39, has been identified by Chinese media outlets as Xu Yao, a senior executive in Yoozoo’s film and television division (only his surname and age were released by police). Local reports have said that a dispute among the Chinese entertainment company’s executive ranks preceded the surreptitious assault on Lin, which was allegedly carried out via a cup of poisoned pu-erh tea.
Liu’s The Three-Body Problem trilogy is a global publishing phenomenon. The first book in the series won sci-fi’s highest honor, the Hugo Award, in 2015 — a first for an Asian writer. The series has since become an international bestseller, translated into dozens of languages, and praised by critics for its vast scope and originality.
Netflix was planning the property as a major event series, with Benioff and Weiss at the helm, and Alexander Woo (The Terror: Infamy) installed as showrunner. The project also counts heavyweights such as Rian Johnson, and Rosamund Pike and Brad Pitt’s Plan B among its executive producers.
On Wednesday evening in China, the Shanghai Public Security Bureau posted the following statement over its official Weibo social media account:
“At 5pm on Dec 17, 2020, the police received a call from a hospital regarding a patient surnamed Lin. During the patient’s treatment, the hospital said it had determined that the patient had been poisoned. Following the call, the police began an investigation. According to investigations on site and further interviews, the police found that a suspect surnamed Xu, who is a coworker of the victim Lin, was the most likely the perpetrator. The suspect Xu has been arrested and investigations continue.”
The Three-Body Problem‘s path from page to screen has been fraught to say the least. Back in December 2015, Yoozoo announced that it had acquired the rights and would be collaborating with the acclaimed author, Liu, to produce both a Chinese-language film adaptation and a video game version. The movie was scheduled for release in July 2016 but soon became mired in reports of problems on set, including senior personnel changes and, eventually, the firing of the entire post-production and VFX team. The release date was moved to 2017 — and later scrapped again, with Yoozoo taking no shortage of shade online from China’s large sci-fi fan community. When the Netflix series adaptation plan was unveiled this September, what many in the Chinese industry had long suspected appeared confirmed: That Yoozoo had given up on adapting the hot property itself and settled on being more of a rights broker (the company also sold Three-Body Problem rights to Shanghai-based streaming platform Bilibili and local animation company YHTK Entertainment for a Chinese-language animated series).
Despite the enormous industry sway that came with Game of Thrones, Benioff and Weiss also have walked a somewhat rocky path as of late. The duo’s GoT follow-up was supposed to be Confederate, a big-budget HBO series set in a parallel universe where the South won the American Civil War and slavery continues. But the show faced immediate backlash from black activists and thought leaders, and was eventually abandoned.
Benioff and Weiss then signed a deal with Disney’s Lucasfilm to develop a trio of original Star Wars movies, but they later stepped away from those plans, citing a busy schedule because of a nine-figure overall deal they inked at Netflix. The Three-Body Problem is to be their first major project under that latest partnership.
The Netflix Three-Body Problem series plan was hit by political controversy not long after it was announced in September. The streamer’s decision to get onboard with the project was challenged by a group of Republican Senators who alleged that the company would be “normalizing” China’s human rights abuses by working with Liu, the original books’ celebrated author.
In a letter sent to Netflix chief content officer and co-CEO Ted Sarandos, the lawmakers quoted from a lengthy interview Liu gave to The New Yorker in 2019, in which he responded to a question about China’s mass internment of Uyghur Muslims in the country’s Xinjiang Province, by saying, “Would you rather that they be hacking away at bodies at train stations and schools in terrorist attacks? If anything, the government is helping their economy and trying to lift them out of poverty.” The Senators’ letter posed a sequence of questions asking Netflix to justify its decision to proceed with the project in partnership with Liu, saying that he is “an individual who parrot[s] dangerous CCP propaganda” in the face of atrocities.
Netflix responded to the Senators one day later, noting noting that while the author may supports the Chinese government’s inhumane policy, Benioff, Weiss and Netflix do not share those views. The streamer added that it “judges individual projects on their merits” and described Liu’s comments as “entirely unrelated to his book or this Netflix show.”
Dec. 25, 3 p.m. Updated to include that Lin died on Christmas Day.