Five would-be assassins and one mastermind have been jailed for attempted murder, following a Chinese court case that revealed the lengths each person involved went to in order to avoid actually doing the deed.
In 2013, businessman Tan Youhui sought the services of a hitman in order to murder a competitor, offering 2 million yuan ($411,883) for the job, according to an official summary of proceedings from the Nanning Intermediate People's Court.
However, that enterprising hitman contracted another hitman to do the job — but at a price about half that of his original commission.
Hitman number two then subcontracted to another hitman, who then subcontracted to a fourth, who then subcontracted to a fifth — but the fifth and final hitman got cold feet.
By the time the contract had been passed on to him, the final asking price was reduced to just 100,000 yuan ($20,600).
Chinese publication Beijing News reported the low price irked the fifth hitman to such an extent, it prompted him to get in touch with the target, Mr Wei, to ask him to fake his own death — a decision that led to the elaborate plot finally unravelling.
On Chinese social media, some users are calling for a prominent Chinese film director to turn the farcical murder plot into a movie, while others are mocking the clumsy subcontracting as "typical Chinese business".
"I can't believe this is real, I thought it was a joke," a user named Feihengronger wrote on Weibo.
In 2016, all six men were acquitted over a lack of evidence, but a successful appeal led to the case being reopened — the proceedings went on for three years, and ended with attempted murder convictions for all involved.
The Nanning Intermediate People's Court's official website said the catalyst for Tan hatching the plot was two civil lawsuits launched by Mr Wei against him in 2013, regarding a shared property development.
Fearing the impact the cases would have on his investment in the development, the court said Tan procured the services of a hitman to kill Mr Wei shortly after.
After being approached by the final subcontracted hitman, Mr Wei agreed to being photographed, gagged and bound in order to fake his own death, after which the hitman said he would personally report the case to police.
The court held that each of these actions constituted intentional homicide, and sentenced both the mastermind and each of the hitmen to jail terms of various lengths.
Tan will serve five years in jail, and the hitman he hired to do the deed, Xi Guangan, will serve three years and six months.
Hitman two, Mo Tianxiang, will serve three years, while hitmen three and four — Yang Kangsheng and Yang Guansheng — were given the same sentence of three years and three months.
Hitman five, Ling Xiansi, was given the shortest sentence at two years and seven months.