A beleaguered actress mired in controversy, truth be told, is nothing to write home about. If celebrity culture has taught us anything, it is that public adoration following the high-volume exposure to celebrities’ personal lives has an expiry date. It will all come crashing down at some point. But then again, there are actresses and then there’s Fan Bingbing.
Following her tragic fall from grace five years ago, the quintessential Chinese prima donna, who was at the height of her career, was dragged through the mud after she was ensnared in a tax evasion scandal. What came next was anybody’s guess and that was all that they could do for a moment—it felt like she had disappeared off the face of the earth.
But the aftermath was colossal: it caused a ripple effect that rocked the entire film industry in China. It had been reported that shares in publicly listed film companies fell by 18 per cent; the censorship board had banned stories on the Internet about taxes, films, and Fan; and there was an order to limit on-screen talents’ payments at 40 per cent of a movie’s production budget.
A remorseful Fan reappeared months later, issuing a heartfelt apology on social media and making a promise to atone for her crime. She continued to keep a low profile after the dust had settled, even when she had a high-profile appearance in a Hollywood production, The 355, last year. But the 41-year-old star is ready to reclaim her spot in the limelight.
Fan kicked the year off with a triumphant return to the Berlin International Film Festival, graced the Oscars’ champagne carpet in an Old Hollywood-esque Tony Ward halter dress and green cape, and shut down Paris Haute Couture Week with show-stopping ensembles and a turn on her close personal friend Georges Hobeika’s runway. Now, she’s on the cover of GRAZIA Singapore’s September issue, sending a clear message that she is ready to move on.
“The most important thing to realise when it comes to forgiving yourself is to have self-determination. It is of utmost importance,” she says, brimming with optimism. “When you recognise your goals and directions, even obstacles will motivate you to push forward. Believe that you are capable and have the power to change,” she added.
Her method of overcoming hardship? “Working out or confiding in someone. I never let negative emotions affect me,” she says simply. Indeed, being in the public eye means opening herself up for scrutiny and the pressure has especially increased in this day and age, with the notoriety of social media and a relentless fan culture. Fan, for one, takes it as a challenge and a motivation to grow her career.
“Internet advancement has boosted the speed of information dissemination. Everyone is eager to voice out their opinion, as they now possess an elevated standard and expectations when it comes to movies,” she reflects. “That means we as performers need to constantly improve and equip ourselves with great content and performances to captivate the audience.”
When asked if she was cooking anything up while in hibernation mode, Fan hinted that she has been working diligently on her beauty brand in the hopes of contributing better products to the beauty sector. She’s also on the lookout for more intriguing projects. “If opportunity knocks on my door, I do wish to get my feet wet in different sectors and industries,” she said.
The Second Act Of Fan Bingbing
Exciting possibilities aside, Fan Bingbing is reclaiming her spot on the silver screen. She showed up at the Berlinale early this year to launch her new project Green Night, which was something of a homecoming—she previously attended it in 2007 for the premiere of Li Yu’s Lost in Beijing.
I see myself inclining towards characters that represent women. I want to empower women with my roles and encourage them to express themself
“I was as excited and nervous as I was back then,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to see all the feedback we would be getting, and just hoped everyone would enjoy it.” Seeing all the Shuai Han-directed feminist fable received rapturous reviews right out of the gate, it’s safe to say that Fan’s comeback narrative is well underway.
In Green Night, Fan plays a woman who escapes her abusive husband and embarks on a dangerous yet liberating adventure with a free-spirited girl. It’s the kind of role that actresses today would kill to sink their teeth into. “I see myself inclining towards characters that represent women. I want to empower women with my roles and encourage them to express themselves,” she says.
Walking the tightrope of crafting an empowering story for women without villainising the male characters may be a tall order for some but it was never a concern for Fan. She said that character development is a process of looking inwardly, presented through acting methods and skills, an approach that would fall flat had they resorted to the cartoonish man-as-villain trope.
Her decision to star in a small arthouse film also raised some eyebrows especially to those who have become accustomed to seeing the bankable star headlining big studio tentpoles in recent years, but Fan is quick to dismiss the speculation that it’s some kind of a pivot in her career. The scale of production is a minor concern in her decision-making process.
“My focus is more on the script itself and how the story delivers. As long as it’s fascinating, the scale of production is negligible,” she said. The same applies to her process of selecting roles. “There isn’t a particularly specific one that’s close to me personally. To a certain extent, most of the characters I played share some of my traits, but maybe only a portion of them is close to me,” she added.
Being one of the most recognised faces in a country of 1.4 billion people for some 25 years, Fan expressed her gratitude for the recognition that she’s given. “Living in the limelight, I need to always keep myself in check and hopefully empower people and bring joy,” she says.
But surely there must be a secret to having such longevity and staying at the top of her game, we press. She answers with a coy smile: “Stay motivated, stay curious, keep an unwavering determination and focus on every endeavour. All of these keep me going and growing.”
PHOTOGRAPHY ISSAC LAM
STYLING AND CREATIVE DIRECTION IAN LOH
ART DIRECTOR OWEN LO YUK CHI/OF STUDIO
HAIR EDA LEE
MAKEUP BONNIE HU
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANTS JASON LI, CLARK KIANO CARMERON
STYLING ASSISTANT CLOVER YUEN
HAIR ASSISTANT EKI HO
PRODUCER HIDI LEE
ART TEAM PACO LUK, YANIS WONG, IVAN KO, DUNCAN LUI, CHECKYU LEARN
GAFFER HSIAO, TK, FEI LUNG
PRODUCTION ASSISTANT MK SUEN, NEO MAN
INTERVIEW TRANSLATION LORRAINE CHAI
INTERVIEW ASSISTANCE WASABI LEE