The Dark Story Behind Netflix’s New Sci-Fi Series, 3 Body Problem
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The Dark Story Behind Netflix’s New Sci-Fi Series, 3 Body Problem

The series is dark, but the truth is even darker

If you haven’t spotted it on your homepage yet, Netflix is enthusiastically promoting its brand new sci-fi series, 3 Body Problem. From Game of Thrones creators David Benioff, D. B. Weiss with Alexander Woo, the eight-part series is an ambitious adaptation of the novel The Three-Body Problem by Chinese computer scientist and author Liu Cixin that has been in the works since at least September 2020.

Like many recent TV and film productions, the series was delayed considerably during production – but this isn’t because of the pandemic or SAG-AFRA strikes. Instead, 3 Body Problem is bound up in controversy that’s almost as sinister than the series itself. Here’s exactly what to expect from the series, plus why the truth is stranger than the fiction.

Inside Netflix’s 3 Body Problem

(L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Alex Sharp as Will Downing, John Bradley as Jack Rooney in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem

(L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand, Alex Sharp as Will Downing, John Bradley as Jack Rooney in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2023

What Is 3 Body Problem About?

This sci-fi series follows the reverberations of one woman’s decision in 1960s China across space and time to the present day. In the present day UK, science seems to be broken, with experiments across the globe starting to fail. A group of young scientists, nicknamed the Oxford Five, must figure out why – and they watch the laws of nature begin to unravel before their eyes.

Based on Liu Cixin’s novel, The Three-Body Problem (the first book in an ambitious trilogy), the book has been described as unadaptable. However, the creators of Game of Thrones rose to the challenge.

Episode 103 of 3 Body Problem

Episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

After finishing the book, Weiss said: ‘It was, in so many ways, unlike anything we’d ever read, and certainly unlike anything we’d ever contemplated bringing to the screen.’

Benioff added: ‘It’s such an ambitious story, and it opens up so many possibilities for an adaptation.’

Fans of Game of Thrones can expect something just as epic in magnitude (and potential for confusion), but don’t expect dragons and Westeros. ‘Making Game of Thrones was the greatest experience of our lives,’ Weiss said. ‘But we spent 10 solid years living in that fictional world, so we wanted something that presented a new set of challenges on every level, and this story really does. It’s still genre storytelling – but under that large umbrella, it’s about as far away as you can get from what we’d just done on Thrones. That’s where both the excitement and the fear have come from; you’re doing something new, so you need to start over. You can’t use the template that you used before and just plug new characters and dialogue and story into it. Even the tone is different; the look of it is different. Everything about this show is different.’

Episode 101 of 3 Body Problem

Episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Who Stars?

  • Benedict Wong as Da Shi
  • Jess Hong as Jin Cheng
  • Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand
  • Eiza González as Augustina “Auggie” Salazar
  • John Bradley as Jack Rooney
  • Alex Sharp as Will Downing
  • Rosalind Chao as adult Ye Wenjie
  • Zine Tseng as teenage Ye Wenjie
  • Jonathan Pryce as Mike Evans
  • Ben Schnetzer as young Mike Evans
  • Liam Cunningham as Wade
  • Marlo Kelly as Tatiana
  • Sea Shimooka as Sophon
  • Saamer Usmani as Raj Varma
  • Eve Ridley as Ye Wenxue
  • Vedette Lim as Vera Yee
  • Jason Forbes
  • Stacy Abalogun
  • Edmund Kingsley

Key Hollywood names are also attached to the project behind the scenes, including Brad Pitt and Rosamund Pike as executive producers.

(L to R) Yu Guming as Yang Weining, Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in episode 102 of 3 Body Problem

(L to R) Yu Guming as Yang Weining, Zine Tseng as Young Ye Wenjie in episode 102 of 3 Body Problem. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024

Where Was It Filmed?

According to Netflix, 3 Body Problem was mainly filmed in England, including Greater London, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Portsmouth, Kent, Oxford, Sussex and Bedfordshire. Additional locations outside of England include Badajoz in Spain, the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and Cape Canaveral in Florida.

What Is The Controversy?

There are two key pieces of controversy that stopped 3 Body Problem appearing on our screens sooner: politics and murder.

Is 3 Body Problem Chinese Propaganda?

In a tale as old as time, US Republican Senators were immediately opposed to the production of Liu Cixin’s novel when it was first announced, accusing it of ‘parroting dangerous CPP [Chinese Communist Party] propaganda’. In a nutshell, the novel traces humanity’s discovery of a preparation for an imminent alien invasion – but it is widely believed the novel is a metaphor for China’s relationship with the US. The US is a technologically superior alien race set on invading and colonising the earth after exhausting its own resources, while China are the novel’s humans, forced to resort to mutually assured destruction to level the playing field.

But this isn’t the only reason Americans were upset with Netflix’s adaptation of the novel. When The Three-Body Problem was translated into English by Ken Liu and republished in 2014, it garnered interest (and a legion of fans, including Barack Obama) in the western world, bagging the Hugo Award for Best Novel. But beloved Cixin attracted controversy in a 2019 interview with The New Yorker when he commented on China’s internment of Uighur Muslims in camps in Xinjiang, saying, ‘Would you rather that [Uighurs] 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.’

Though details are scant, around 1.8 million Uighur Muslims are estimated to be held in camps in China, which have been compared to concentration camps. China has been accused of crimes against humanity, genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng

Jess Hong as Jin Cheng in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Ed Miller/Netflix © 2024

The New Yorker article, written by Chinese-American journalist Jiayang Fan, continues into a discussion of brainwashing. Fan writes Lui’s answer ‘duplicated government propaganda so exactly that I couldn’t help asking Liu if he ever thought he might have been brainwashed,’ to which he replied: ‘I know what you are thinking: What about individual liberty and freedom of governance? But that’s not what Chinese people care about. For ordinary folks, it’s the cost of health care, real-estate prices, their children’s education. Not democracy,’ proceeding to describe the prospect of a Chinese democracy as ‘terrifying’ and ‘hell on earth’. Lui then suggested Fan had been brainwashed, having lived in the US for three decades.

Indeed, towards the end of Liu’s trilogy, he writes that humanity, captured by aliens and held in Australia, ‘succumbed to the seduction of totalitarianism, like the surface of a lake caught in a cold spell’ – in short claiming that totalitarianism is a natural order. Naturally, Fan’s article attracted attention – including the attention of Washington DC. Upon the news that Netflix was adapting the novel into a blockbuster series – hoping to replicate the success of David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ Game of Thrones – five Republican US senators wrote to Netflix accusing the company of ‘normalising’ the Chinese government’s treatment of Uighur Muslims. ‘These crimes are committed systemically and at a scale which may warrant a distinction of genocide,’ they wrote. ‘Sadly, a number of US companies continue to either actively or tacitly allow the normalisation of, or apologism for, these crimes. The decision to produce an adaptation of Mr Liu’s work can be viewed as such normalisation.’

Two days later, Netflix rebutted the claims, stating the company does not operate in China and is adapting Cixin’s novel, not endorsing his opinions or supporting the Chinese government. Cixin has not been involved with the creation of the show, and much of the plot and characters have been changed, including the setting from Beijing to London.

(L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand

(L to R) Eiza González as Auggie Salazar, Jovan Adepo as Saul Durand in episode 101 of 3 Body Problem. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Was Someone Murdered During Production?

Yes, Chinese billionaire film and TV producer Lin Qi was poisoned and later died in the early stages of production on 3 Body Problem. The primary suspect? Xu Yao, a colleague of Lin’s at The Three-Body Problem Universe, the Chinese company in charge of developing film, TV and potentially even game adaptations of Cixin’s popular novel and its sequels.

Lin founded The Three-Body Problem Universe, an affiliate company of Chinese games maker, YooZoo Group, and sold Netflix the rights to adapt the book into a TV series after struggling to create a Chinese adaptation. Xu Yao was CEO of The Three-Body Problem Universe, and was arrested amid rumours of a dispute with Lin and other executives at the company. It was reported that Xu was obsessed with the American series Breaking Bad and set up his own lab in Shanghai to make and test poisons that would later kill Lin. It was also reported that Lin was poisoned with a cocktail of up to five lethal substances, and died nine days after he was hit, despite having 40 litres of blood transfusions.

According to China Daily, Xu Yao has been sentenced to death by the Shanghai First Intermediate People’s Court for murdering Lin Qi. ‘The court ruled that Xu intentionally caused the death of Lin through poisoning and as a result, should receive capital punishment and be deprived of political rights for life. Additionally, Xu was given a six-year prison sentence and deprived of political rights for life for poisoning four other employees,’ Zheng Zheng writes in China Daily.

Eiza González as Auggie Salazar

Eiza González as Auggie Salazar in episode 103 of 3 Body Problem. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024


All eight episodes of 3 Body Problem are streaming now on Netflix.