Zhang plays a computer programmer and Jin a model who are lured separately to the fictional Southeast Asian city of Jianan by promises from online scammers of well-paid jobs.
They soon realise the deception but not before they are trapped in the system, in which they work together snare other victims and risk severe punishment if they try to escape.
The plot also tells the story of university graduate Tian, played by Wang Dalu, who takes his life after falling prey to online gambling.
Director Shen Ao told state news agency Xinhua that he was halfway through writing the script when he heard about a similar case to Tian’s and decided to include it in the story.
The ripped-from-the-headlines plot reflects a broader concern in China about such scams.
One of the centres of such activity is northern Myanmar, an area beset by civil unrest on the border of China’s southwestern province of Yunnan.
Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper reported on Thursday that five people, four of them teens from Yunnan, were lured into Myanmar illegally and forced into scamming.
Qin said the scams were undermining the interests of the Chinese people and called for joint law enforcement in the area.
In the meantime, China has given its agencies new power to pursue cyber fraud scammers and suspects abroad and some cities have threatened to freeze the bank accounts of those who fail to comply.
Taiwanese actor Jim Liu, who plays a Jianan immigration officer in the movie, said the public were concerned about these kinds of crimes but had not really seen them explored in cinema.
“No big commercial film had turned the topic into a plot-driven, action-packed film, with an aesthetic appeal, a cast with chemistry and an entertaining approach,” said Liu, whose character helps Chinese police crack down on the gangs.
He said the movie encouraged viewers to understand the characters – whether victims or perpetrators – and reflect on their own choices, rather than condemn or blame others for temptations that many feel.
The movie sought to evoke a sense of “shared vulnerability” and raise the hope that society might become more inclusive, saying it was important to understand the helplessness and shame of victims overseas.
“Factors like environment and culture can discourage people from speaking up, making them feel even more isolated and alone,” Liu said.