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‘The Knockout’ Is the Hottest Chinese Drama of 2023 (So Far...)

With a score of 9/10 on the Chinese review platform Douban, ‘The Knockout’ tells the story of a beleaguered policeman’s attempt to destroy a criminal gang

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12:34 PM HKT, Thu February 2, 2023 2 mins read

Since crime drama The Knockout (狂飙, Kuangbiao) began streaming on January 14, it has quickly become one of the most talked about shows online. It currently boasts an impressive 9/10 score on the Chinese review platform Douban, the highest rating yet for a show or movie this year on the site.

The drama is so popular that it reportedly crashed the streaming platform iQiyi on its ninth day of broadcasting. The show just wrapped up its 39-episode run on February 1.

The Knockout is about a 20-year-long power struggle between An Xin (played by Zhang Yi), a front-line policeman, and Gao Qiqiang (Zhang Songwen), the leader of a major criminal enterprise in the fictional city of Jinghai.

The two men first meet in 2000 when An, a young police officer, interrogates Gao, a hard-working, orphaned fishmonger, for some petty crimes.

promotional poster for the knockout chinese drama

The promotional poster for The Knockout. Image via Twitter

Over the next two decades, Gao falls deeper and deeper into the criminal underworld in a misguided effort to support his younger siblings, eventually becoming a mafia boss himself.

Bribery, murder-for-hire, and meth dealing are all crimes that Gao eventually becomes involved in — but An’s investigation is never far behind his heels.

best chinese drama the knockout

Gao and his gang. Image via Weibo

Interestingly, The Knockout’s popularity has boosted sales of Sun Tzu’s 5th-century BCE work The Art of War, simply because the military treatise makes a few cameos in the drama.

First appearing in episode four, when An recommends it to Gao, The Art of War becomes a guide of sorts for Gao as he works his way up the criminal ladder. Throughout the drama, Gao reads from, quotes, and attributes his success to the book.

Gao Qiqiang reading Sun Tze's The Art of War in Chinese drama The Knockout

Gao reading Sun Tze’s The Art of War. Image via Weibo

Since The Knockout began streaming, The Art of War has risen to 12th on China’s major online book retailer Dangdang’s bestseller list. Additionally, some versions of the book have reportedly sold out online.

Though the resurgence of The Art of War is evidence of this drama’s popularity, it is not the reason why The Knockout has reached such heights.

Overall, viewers love the depth of the characters and the genuine nature of their relationships. Many also attribute the show’s magic to Zhang Songwen’s heartfelt performance, and his character’s evident humanity, despite his crimes.

A reviewer wrote for the Chinese magazine Sanlian Lifeweek, “What is special about The Knockout is that it spends a lot of time showing how an ordinary person [like Gao] becomes a criminal… It does not simply treat Gao’s depravity as a personal choice, but also points to deeper problems [within society].”

Another shared on Douban, “[The show is] suspenseful, sensational, detailed, bold, and interspersed with humor. We watch An Xin change from a tough and vivacious young policeman to a gray-haired and lethargic office worker. And we witness Gao Qiqiang moving step-by-step from an oppressed fishmonger to a mobster, essentially stepping into the abyss.”

However, one show cannot satisfy every audience member, and some netizens have taken issue with The Knockout’s adherence to government-approved themes like patriotism and heroism.

“As soon as I see anti-gang themes, I feel physically disgusted… It’s just a routine approved by the government where they celebrate heroism and patriotism… stop filming such useless things, and stop wasting these excellent actors,” criticized one Douban user.

Cover image via Weibo

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