Up until a few months ago, the future looked bright for Fan Bingbing. As one of China’s biggest movie stars, she had featured in a couple of Hollywood superhero blockbusters and scores of local films, with many other projects in the pipeline.
Then in June, she became embroiled in a scandal about movie stars under-reporting their earnings, resulting in Chinese tax authorities investigating the industry — including Fan — for possible evasion. The 36-year-old actress, who has 63 million followers on the Twitter-like Weibo, has since vanished from public view — no more social media updates, no more paparazzi photos and no more public appearances. Fan has denied wrongdoing and a representative for her studio could not be reached for comment.
For film executives, Fan’s disappearance is a reminder of the perils of show business in the most-regulated major entertainment market in the world, where the Communist Party weighs in on everything from the appropriateness of costumes to the salaries of movie stars. The episode is also prompting Chinese studios to wean off a reliance on A-list stars to drive big hits, a shift Hollywood made years ago.
This file picture taken on March 26, 2013 shows Chinese actress, singer and producer Fan Bingbing (C) attending the Viscap fashion show with other celebrities at China Fashion Week in Beijing.
“The crackdown will force studios to focus on making quality content rather than simply relying on the star-driven formula,” said Leiger Yang, founding partner at Beijing-based Landmark Capital, which invests in entertainment start-ups and studios.
A shift away from star-driven fare would come just as China’s cinema boom is regaining momentum, fuelled by local hits steadily displacing Hollywood blockbusters. But underneath that healthy gloss, top Chinese studios including Huayi Brothers Media Corp. and Zhejiang Huace Film & TV Co. said in annual reports that higher celebrity pay is threatening profit margins.
Fan vanished from public view one day before the State Administration of Taxation on June 3 announced a probe into the star’s tax filings after a former China Central Television host posted what appeared to be partially redacted contracts that allegedly disguised compensation Fan received from a studio for a film. Weeks later, the host said the contracts weren’t related to the star.
Fan’s silence and the crackdown are also intended to make a political point, said Stanley Rosen, a University of Southern California political science professor who studies China and its film industry.
Chinese actress Fan Bingbing poses during the photocall of the film “Rizhao Chongqing” (Chongqing Blues) presented in competiton at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2010 in Cannes.
“Social media and public opinion, as you know, are important drivers of policies in this area, particularly when it comes to perceived inequalities, the super-rich, and cheating,” said Rosen. Still, he predicts the government won’t deepen its crackdown in a way that harms the industry longer term.
Authorities still want the industry to grow fast enough to surpass North American box office, he said.
While authorities may not directly undermine bankable stars, industry trends show stellar casts …read more