In the wake of a government clampdown on financial misdeeds in the film industry, the production team behind Chinese wartime action drama “Unbreakable Spirit,” featuring actor Bruce Willis, has defended the movie from accusations of tax evasion and money laundering.
An unusual public statement signed by the film’s key crew members was released shortly after Chinese authorities issued rules on actors’ pay following revelations of “yin-yang contracts” – double contracts for a single job – used to hide income. The authorities warned Wednesday that dubious practices risked undermining “the health and ecology of the film and television industry.”
The statement by “Unbreakable Spirit’s” production team declared that the movie’s budget did not exceed the original estimate, stars were not overpaid and production crew members would not receive a cut of the box office. Among the statement’s signatories was director Xiao Feng.
“Unbreakable Spirit” (called “The Bombing” in Chinese) features an ensemble cast including Willis, Liu Ye, Nicholas Tse, Adrien Brody and Fan Bingbing, China’s most famous actress. The movie tells the story of the Japanese bombing of Chongqing during World War II. It’s set to open in China on Aug. 17.
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The film has had a troubled history. According to the public statement released Wednesday, production agreements were signed by four companies in early 2015. But one of the original investors, Shanghai Hehe Film & Television Investment Co., bailed after its parent company, Shanghai Kuailu Investment Group, was caught up in a box-office fraud scandal surrounding “Ip Man 3” in March 2016. Shi Jianxiang, Kuailu’s former chairman and the original producer of “Unbreakable Spirit,” fled the country, and is currently on China’s international wanted list.
The statement said that one of the investors, Beijing-based Yuanhua Pictures Co., agreed to shoulder the costs initially borne by Hehe in order to keep the production going.
Meanwhile, TV host Cui Yongyuan – who earlier this month exposed yin-yang contracts allegedly signed by Fan – has alleged that there were similar contracts worth 750 million yuan ($113 million) relating to actress Huang Shengyi, who also appears in “Unbreakable Spirit.” Cui, a former friend of fugitive Shi, was on board in the early stage of the movie’s production as an advisor.
“Unbreakable Spirit” executive producer Wang Ding told Chinese media that, despite the film’s financial difficulties, the total production cost did not exceed the original estimate of 150 million yuan ($22.6 million), and did not run into billions of yuan as rumored. When the project was unveiled three years ago, sources estimated the budget to be about $90 million.
Wang denied allegations of tax evasion and money laundering during production. “The fact is we have been facing a great deal of [financial] difficulties to keep the movie’s production going,” he said.
The production team did not pay overpriced fees to the actors, Wang said. “All the fees paid to the main cast appearing in the final cut of the film were agreed to below the market price….All the cast members were enthusiastic about their participation in this war drama, and no one asked for an exorbitant fee,” he said.
Director Xiao also said that none of the production crew members would have a share of the box office receipts.
But neither he nor Wang responded directly to the allegations of yin-yang contracts.