Tag Archives: entertainment

Fan Faces Fine

FAN BINGBING, THE film star not seen in public since June, has been fined 883 million yuan ($130 million) for tax evasion and other offences, state media says. She will avoid criminal charges and prison time if she pays up by a year-end deadline.

Unconfirmed reports in Hong Kong said she has also been banned from working as an actress for three years. It would be unusually for such a ban to be announced by authorities in the absence of a conviction.

A contrite posting appeared on Fan’s Weibo account today, although there is still no indication of her whereabouts.

Her agent remains in detention as a broad investigation into entertainment celebrities’ tax affairs continues. Fan was the highest earning Chinese celebrity last year with an income of 300 million yuan, according to Forbes magazine’s reckoning.

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China’s Film Industry Loses A Fan

IT WOULD NOT be too idle speculation to connect the non-appearance in public of the film star Fan Bingbing these many weeks to the suggestion that the anti-corruption crackdown has reached the heart of the media and entertainment industries.

Her studio as denied the accusation that Fan was using what is known in the trade as ‘yin-and-yang’ contracts — two versions of the contract for an engagement of which the one showing the lower fee is the one intended for the taxman. Their use has been widespread in real estate transactions for at least a decade, not that that makes them any less illegal.

There is, it should be said, no hard evidence either way on which to judge the scuttlebutt that tax evasion was Fan’s ‘crime’, for which, some reports say, she has been arrested, while others suggest, less credibly, that she has fled to the United States to seek asylum. Fan’s public silence would, however, seem to tell its own story.

China’s highest-paid actress did, however, score zero on a recently released ranking of entertainers based on their social responsibility scores. Those can be regarded as a precursor to the ‘social credit’ system now being trialled with the aim of introducing it nationwide by 2020. Low scores could mean for an actor denial of the state licenses they need to work, and provide an easy excuse to film and TV programme makers not to offer parts.

Fan has already been dropped by sponsors, a sure sign she has fallen out of favour with authorities.

Catching tigers as well as flies is a characteristic of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign. In June, authorities put limits on the pay of star actors, in part to crack down on tax evasion but also as part of the broader campaign against conspicuous wealth. The pay of actors in Chinese films and TV programmes was capped at 40% of the total production costs, with lead actors limited to 70% of the actors’ pool.

Authorities are also worried about the impact of stars on young Chinese, who are at risk, they fear, of chasing celebrity and “distorted social values” — for which read Western values — rather than following the Party endorsed pursuit Chinese values.

TV dramas last year were instructed to ‘enhance people’s cultural taste’ and ‘strengthen spiritual civilisation’ — strictures that came with a new set of rules governing the programmes’ content.

Reviving Chinese culture is a core strand of President Xi Jinping’s vision of ‘’the Chinese dream’, as is a very particular view of how China will project itself abroad through Chinese values.

The arts have long been seen as a part of the Party’s ideological leadership, with artists, in all realms of the arts, expected to create works that are not only artistic but also politically inspiring. Those are to serve to promote socialist values in line with the Party’s agenda.

Artistic dissent can have no place in that, much as dissent is being cracked down on in a variety of areas from the social sciences to civil society.

The Beijing Trade Association for Performances, which in 2014 took a leading role in the authorities’ crackdown on performing artists alleged to be involved with drug-taking and prostitution, now says it will ‘purify’ the city’s entertainment and performance sector and guide artists towards ‘core socialist values’.

The entertainment industry poses a particular problem in that fandom around TV, movie and music stars creates a potential point of political power that is youth-based, unpredictable and weakly subject to Party control, all characteristics for which the Party does not care.

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Lights! Camera! Trade Action!

Tian Jin, China’s vice-minister for film and TV, complains that the film industry trade deal struck between Washington and Beijing in February is working as intended. The deal exempted 14 U.S. 3-D and large format films from China’s annual import quota for foreign films, of 20. It also gave Hollywood a bigger cut of the takings on its films, raising it to 25% from 13%, albeit still short of the 30% American producers typically get on foreign distribution. The consequence, Tian says, is that “the past dominance of domestic firms in the Chinese market has been shaken.”

Such is the power of art, or at least the popular art form that is the Hollywood blockbuster movie. But there are serious lessons in all this for any industry that has been able to shelter cosily behind domestic walls of protection (and not just in China).

First is that more free trade increases business all round. Box office revenues at Chinese cinemas, at 13.3 billion yuan ($2.2 billion) in the first ten months of this year, have just passed 2011’s total of $2.1 billion. Domestically produced films took 41.4% of those receipts, down from 2011’s 53.6%. “A huge drop,” Tian says, but the overall pie is larger. Domestic films’ share will increase by year’s end as foreign films have evaporated from cinema’s schedules for December, just as they did mid-year for a month.

Second is that given a choice, consumers will take it. There is a well observed effect worldwide that increasingly cosmopolitan and upwardly mobile middle classes go through a phase of looking down upon local films as cheap and tawdry. That Hollywood blockbusters appeal to Chinese audiences can scarcely come as a surprise to China Film Group Corp., the state-owned film producer and distributor whose remit includes the monopoly on the import of foreign films (and their distribution schedule). The three top grossing films in the country last year were Transformers 3, Kung Fu Panda 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

Third, if the Chinese film industry is going to hold its ground against foreign films–and remember to set against the quota of 34 foreign films a year now allowed, the U.S. alone releases 8,000-9,000 new films a year, so the market is barely opened–it will have to improve the quality of its product. It is not the first national film industry to wilt under the assault of Hollywood. Three-quarters of a century ago, France, Germany and the U.K. all had flourishing domestic film industries. Neither France nor Germany’s had the size of market to sustain French and German-language filmmaking on a global scale. Britain, too, though not hampered by language, lacked the resources to compete with Hollywood.

The most notable example of national film industry thriving regardless is India’s. Like China it has a large domestic language film industry that has also been protected. But Bollywood, and its smaller Kanada-language sibling Banglawood, is very good at what it does, and is so on industrial scale. So, too, is Hong Kong’s film industry, before 1997 the third-largest producer of films after Hollywood and Bollywood. It found an identity distinctive enough to have imposed itself on Hollywood’s action movie genre, even if its own filmmakers have become more muted over the past 15 years. China’s filmmakers will have to emulate that craft. And it is what Beijing will push them to do if it wants to emulate the soft power that Hollywood projects for Washington.

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