Fan Bingbing Contract Leak Sparks Film Industry Tax Probe in China
China’s tax authorities have launched a probe into the fiscal affairs of the film and TV industries, following allegations that leading actress Fan Bingbing engaged in contract chicanery to hide a massive payday.
China’s State Authority of Taxation announced the industry-wide move Sunday. It ordered local tax bureaus to investigate so-called Yin-Yang contracts – in essence, double contracts for the same work.
Fan, China’s biggest celebrity and co-star of Jessica Chastain’s forthcoming action film “355,” reacted furiously last week when details of a contract were leaked online by TV anchor Cui Yongyuan. His initial disclosure showed Fan being paid $1.56 million (RMB10 million) for four days’ work on Feng Xiaogang-directed “Cell Phone 2.” Cui followed up by releasing a second contract worth $7.8 million (RMB50 million) for the same work. He suggested that the intent was to allow Fan to declare only the smaller contract to tax authorities, rather than her full $9.3 million (RMB60 million) compensation.
Fan has denied any impropriety and hired lawyers to defend her. Cui’s social media posting was viewed 38 million times before being removed on Sunday, state-owned Global Times reported.
The disclosure was an embarrassment for both Fan and for China’s media regulators. Last year, five government agencies issued directives urging media companies to focus on culture rather than celebrity, and moved to rein in runaway paydays for stars. As part of last year’s supposed crackdown, the China Alliance of Radio Film and Television issued guidelines that sought to limit on-screen performers’ pay to 40% of a production’s total cost. It also sought to cap the leading star’s pay at a maximum of 70% of total payments to cast. The Yin-Yang contracts appear to be a way to skirt those rules.
Cui’s leak also revealed a string of diva-like riders and conditions. They included Fan having script approval, two limousines, a voice coach, a makeup artist who needed to be paid for a full month at $12,500 (RMB80,000,) and a $235 (RMB1,500) food allowance per day.
Fan, who was a member of the main competition jury at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, rose to fame in Feng’s “Cell Phone” in 2003 and, according to some estimates, is the world’s fourth-highest-paid actor. She runs her own company, Fans Workshop, and for the past four years she has been China’s highest-paid actress, according to Forbes. The Financial Times reported that last year Fan earned $46.5 million (RMB300 million), with much of that total coming from sponsorship and celebrity endorsements.
Represented in Hollywood by CAA, Fan has appeared in “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Iron Man 3.” She appeared in Feng’s hit “I Am Not Madame Bovary” in 2016 and will be seen next in Chinese war film “The Bombing.” She has recently posted pictures of herself in makeup preparing to shoot “Cell Phone 2.”
By Patrick Frater
Fan Bingbing (born 16 September 1981) is a Chinese actress, television producer and pop singer.
Fan rose to fame in East Asia in 1998–1999 with the mega-hit TV series My Fair Princess. In 2003, she starred in Cell Phone, which became the highest-grossing Chinese film of the year, and received critical acclaim at the Hundred Flowers Award. Since then, she has starred in many films, most notably The Matrimony (2007), Lost in Beijing (2007), Buddha Mountain (2011) and Double Xposure (2012), where she received awards from prestigious award ceremonies such as the Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards, Eurasia International Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Beijing College Student Film Festival and Huading Awards. Fan has also participated in many foreign-language films, such as the French film Stretch (2011), the Korean film My Way (2011) and the Hollywood blockbuster X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014).
Fan topped the Forbes China Celebrity 100 list in 2013, 2014 and 2015, after ranking in the top 10 every year since 2006. She is one of the highest-paid actresses in the world and has also been called a fashion icon due to frequent appearances on the red carpet, movie premieres, and fashion shows.
Fan was born in Qingdao but was raised in Yantai. She graduated from Shanghai Xie Jin Film and Television Art College and Shanghai Theatre Academy.
Fan debuted in the television series Powerful Woman and played minor roles for two years before she rose to stardom in 1999 for her supporting role as Jin Suo in the first two seasons of the Chinese television series My Fair Princess, which were adapted from Taiwanese writer Chiung Yao’s story. She was recommended by Taiwanese actress Leanne Liu to join the cast of My Fair Princess. The comedic period drama became phenomenal and swept the TV ratings in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Vietnam; launching Fan as a household name in Asia.
After that, Fan signed an eight-year contract with Chiung Yao’s company, which produced My Fair Princess. However, as the company had yet to establish any branches in mainland China, many mainland Chinese television advertising firms had to make calls to Taiwan for negotiations, resulting in a waste of time and effort. When Fan and her mother wanted to end the contract, Chiung Yao’s company asked for ¥1 million in compensation, but eventually the court ordered Fan to pay ¥200,000 because the contract was illegal due to her age.
In 2000, Fan joined a company owned by Wang Jinghua, a well-known artists manager in Mainland China. At the end of 2000, Wang became the general manager of Huayi Brothers, so Fan followed Wang and signed a six-year contract with Huayi. During her time in Huayi, Fan starred in many television series, such as Young Justice Bao II (2001), Red Poppies (2002), adapted from the Mao Dun Literature Prize novel, and The Proud Twins (2005), adapted from Gu Long’s novel Juedai Shuangjiao. From 1999 to 2002, Fan acted in a total of 17 TV series.
Fan also acted in many films. In 2003, she starred in Feng Xiaogang’s Cell Phone, which earned her a Best Actress Award at the 27th Hundred Flowers Awards, a Best Supporting Actress nomination from the 24th Golden Rooster Awards and an Outstanding New Actress nomination at the 10th Huabiao Awards. She also appeared in The Lion Roars (2002), The Twins Effect II (2004), A Chinese Tall Story (2005) and A Battle of Wits (2006). She received a Golden Bauhinia Awards nomination for her role in A Battle of Wits.
Fan released her first album Just Begun in 2005. She worked with many renowned music producers and composers, in order to incorporate a wide variety of genres into the album. In 2006, Forbes China gave its most prized award, the Star of the Year, to Fan, for her popularity, high press coverage and website hits in past year.
Regarding the six-year cooperation with Huayi Brothers, Fan said, “Huayi gave me a lot of opportunities. It has a very good team and the spirit of cooperation. I also tried my best. The six years really are a non-stop time. In the company, everyone calls me Astro Boy. I did the most works, and I am the person who able to endure the most hardship. I am 25 years old now, from 25 years old to 30 years old, I think that whatever life will experience or career will confront, the period is a very important juncture, or a crossroad for me, and I do not want to be too hasty to make any decisions.”
Fan left Huayi Brothers in February 2007 and then started her own studio, Fan Bingbing Studio. She starred in eight films in 2007, winning the Best Supporting Actress Award at the 44th Golden Horse Film Awards for her role in The Matrimony. She also won the Best Actress Award of 4th Eurasia International Film Festival for her role in the film Lost in Beijing.
In 2008, Fan started an arts school in Huairou, Beijing, and served as its principal, but the school was actually run by her parents. She also became the leader of the acting team of West Movie Group’s arts centre. That year, her studio made its first television production Rouge Snow (2008), adapted from the novel of the same name. Fan played the starring role in the production, portraying a poor girl who fights for freedom against fate after being sold to a wealthy and influential clan.
In 2009, her studio produced The Last Night of Madam Chin, also adapted from the same name novel written by Bai Xianyong. It was a story about a beautiful dancing girl’s legendary life. That year, Fan starred in Shinjuku Incident and Sophie’s Revenge. She also appeared in Bodyguards and Assassins, which earned her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
In 2010, Fan starred in Chen Kaige’s film Sacrifice. On 24 October, Buddha Mountain starring Fan premiered at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival, which earned her the Best Actress Award. In April 2010, Fan was ranked first on the “50 Most Beautiful People in China” list by the newspaper Beijing News.
In 2011, Fan starred in martial arts film Shaolin and The Founding of a Party, which was released to mark the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. The same year, she participated in French film Stretch with Nicolas Cazalé and David Carradine, as well as South Korean production My Way. In May, she appeared at the 64th Cannes Film Festival to promote My Way together with director Kang Je-gyu and actors Jang Dong-gun and Joe Odagiri. In October, she became a member of the International Competition Jury of 24th Tokyo International Film Festival.
For the first half of 2012, Fan attended many fashion shows in Paris. On 16 May, she attended the opening ceremony of 65th Cannes Film Festival as the only East Asian global spokesperson on behalf of Paris L’Oreal. On 21 May, Forbes ranked Fan third on the 2012 Forbes China Celebrity 100 List according to her success in the past year.
On 17 July, she appeared at the first press conference to promote the film Double Xposure, which was released in China on 29 September. She also attended The Voice of China final concert to promote the film. In this film, she portrayed a girl who suffered childhood trauma and experienced visual hallucinations after witnessing her father kill her mother. Most film critics gave overwhelmingly high praise to Fan’s performance, and she won the Huading Awards for Best Actress. The film was a huge financial success, with a domestic gross of more than ¥100 million,which broke the box office record for a domestic art film in China. On 12 December, Fan appeared in Lost in Thailand, in which she did an unpaid cameo so as to “help” her first-time filmmaker friend Xu Zheng. The film broke the box office record for Chinese films in China, to become one of the highest-grossing Chinese films of all time.
In 2013, Fan appeared as Dr. Wu’s assistant Wu Jiaqi in the mainland Chinese version of Iron Man 3, which was released on 1 May. Commenting on her role, Fan said, “People familiar with me know that I am willing to help friends. That was the Iron Man 3 production company asked me whether I had time to shoot a half-day for help, so I went. [….] Helping friends makes me feel at ease.”The same year, she starred alongside Aarif Rahman in the romance comedy One Night Surprise, which aired on the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The low-budget film unexpectedly became a commercial success, and received positive reviews.
Fan topped the 2013 Forbes China Celebrity 100 List. She became the first Asian celebrity ambassador for the Champagne House Moët & Chandon., and also the brand ambassador for Chopard.On 18 May, Fan was honoured as the International Artist of the Year in Cannes by The Hollywood Reporter. On 9 December, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group’s B2C business Taobao announced that Fan topped the list of the most valuable celebrities for boosting online business, and said that Fan influenced approximately US$74 million in sales on its ecommerce website. On 22 December, Fan received the Best Actress Award and the Hottest Figure Award at the Baidu Hot Ceremony.
In 2014, Fan portrayed the mutant Blink (Clarice Ferguson) in American superhero film X-Men: Days of Future Past. She also announced that she has a four-film-contract with 20th Century Fox. The film was released globally and resulted in increased international fame and recognition for Fan. On 31 May, Barbie announced the launch of the Fan Bingbing Celebrity Specialty doll in Shanghai. Fan became the first actress from China to be invited to join the Barbie global celebrity Hall of Fame. Louis Vuitton also chose Fan as the first Asian actress to be provided with a specially tailored dress for their red carpet. On July 31, the 3D wuxia fantasy film The White Haired Witch of Lunar Kingdom was released and starred Fan as the title character.
Fan then returned to television after a 6 years hiatus in The Empress of China, the third television production by Fan Bingbing Studio. Boasting a total budget of over ¥300 million (roughly US$49.53 million), it is believed to be the among most expensive TV series in Chinese history. Fan portrayed the titular character Wu Zetian, the only female emperor in Chinese history. The 82-episode TV series was broadcast on Hunan Television from 21 December 2014 to 5 February 2015, and garnered a total of 12 billion views online.
In 2015, Fan joined the CCTV variety show as a judge in Amazing Chinese and as a contestant in reality television Challenger Alliance. She also starred in Ever Since We Love and Lady of the Dynasty, in which she played Yang Guifei. She was ranked 4th on Forbes’ World’s Highest Paid Actresses list for 2015.
In 2016, Fan starred in Skiptrace alongside Jackie Chan and American actor Johnny Knoxville, which was a commercial success, as well as League of Gods with Jet Li. She then starred in Guo Jingming’s L.O.R.D: Legend of Ravaging Dynasties as the main character. The film, which was released on September 30, is China’s first computer animated motion film. On 24 September, Fan won the Silver Shell for Best Actress award at the 64th San Sebastián International Film Festival for her performance in I Am Not Madame Bovary directed by Feng Xiaogang.
Heart Ali, a project started by Fan and Chen Lizhi (the general manager of Beijing Maxtimes Culture Development Co.Ltd), is aimed at helping children suffering from congenital heart disease in Ngari Prefecture in Tibet. Fan has visited them several times so far with medical teams to identify children in need of treatment. After identification, the children and their parents are brought in groups to Beijing or Shanghai for surgery.