Zhang Yimou
Didier Baverel/WireImage

Has rebel-turned-establishment hero fallen from grace?

BEIJING — China’s population planners are probing the country’s leading helmer Zhang Yimou after reports that he sired numerous children in violation of the One Child Policy, and could be in line for a fine of 160 million yuan ($26 million).

The probe comes as President Xi Jinping steps up his campaign to crack down on graft and abuse of privilege by officials in the ruling Communist Party.

While Zhang is not a party cadre, a breach of the One Child Policy by so prominent a public figure would cause anger among a population already unsettled by a growing wealth gap, and a belief that different rules exist for those with power and those without.

Over the course of his career, Zhang has gone from being a banned director of lustrous arthouse fare, like his debut as director, “Red Sorghum,” to helming stirring nationalist epics such as “Hero.”

His rehabilitation during the former government under Hu Jintao was complete when he choreographed the 2008 Olympics opening spectacle.

According to a series of reports online and in local media, the “Hero” helmer reportedly has up to seven rugrats from his two marriages and from relationships with two other women, which contravenes family planning regulations.

He could not be reached for comment.

For many in the industry, Zhang’s career has been one of poacher turned gamekeeper. Movies such as “To Live” were banned and his pics were confined to the arthouse circuit and foreign film fests.

His 2011 WWII epic “Flowers of War” featured Christian Bale, and while it was a big hit in China, it failed to make much of an impact overseas.

Other recent works include “A Simple Noodle Story,” an adaptation of the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” and “Under the Hawthorn Tree,” a love story set in the Cultural Revolution.

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