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Shanghai Vice explores the themes of love, crime and punishment through the personalities of the people of Shanghai. Shot over 3 years this extraordinary series is an enthralling portrait of China’s biggest city as it embarked on a new chapter in its history after Deng Xiao Ping’s momentous speech in 1992, challenging Shangahi to lead China into the 21st Century.

In a city where heroin dealing can bring the death sentence, drug rings mean business…and so do the police. Cutting through government red tape, Phil Agland negotiated unprecedented access to Shanghai’s 40,000 strong police force. The activities of the city’s vice squad – including high-level sting operations and the interrogations of murder suspects and drug runners - are at the heart of the stories.

Interwoven with the police stories are the personal stories that make up the daily lives of Shanghai’s citizens. A dying boy is given a last chance heart operation, while elsewhere in the city, a woman takes her fight against corrupt authorities to the highest levels - and a school teacher goes missing under suspicious circumstances…

“A swirling, searing and soaring portrait of a city” - Time Out
“The ultimate in television documentary-making" - The Telegraph

“Stunning - a better piece of documentary television is hard to imagine” - The Observer

follow up to the award winning ‘Beyond the Clouds'"- The Scotsman

"It all happened at a banquet in Beijing. Chatting to the guy next to me about Thomas Hardy and my upcoming film of The Woodlanders. ‘Oh, you must come and film in my home town!’. That ‘town’ just happened to be Shanghai and ‘he’ just happened to be a policeman. A year later we were back in China and filming what was to become Shanghai Vice, the ‘big city’ follow up to Beyond the Clouds.


Another ‘blank canvas’ to fill with real life stories. It was 1997 and the city was being levelled to make way for the new super city. And we were hoping to make the issue of crime and punishment central to our story of modern urban China. But even we were unprepared for the sheer scale of humanity on the move. The next decade was to see 400 million people migrate from the countryside to the cities, the largest switch from rural to urban living the world has ever seen."

"But it wasn’t to be all plain sailing. Though we had permission to film, it wasn’t until well in to the third year that we were able to film the very serious crime stories that were to be so crucial in telling our story of modern China. This was to be the hallmark of our experience of filming over 25 years. When all seems impossible, as it so always does in China, a door opens and quite suddenly we are able to film the seemingly impossible. After three years of tussling to get any police cases at all, we found ourselves following a classic Chinese Secret Police ‘sting’ operation and the crackdown on ‘Muslims’ from the north-west after the bombings in Beijing and Urumqi. This shocking story of betrayal story that was to become the heart of our first two films of Shanghai Vice and was to give our audience a unique insight into China’s internal security."

Phil Agland

Shanghai Vice

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7 Part Series for Channel 4 and Discovery (1999)

Shanghai Vice

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