Half a year after she was found guilty of tax fraud and disappeared from the public eye, Chinese superstar Fan Bingbing has begun to signal her comeback, attending a gala event and launching her own beauty product on social media this week.
The 37-year-old actress unexpectedly hit the red carpet in Beijing on Monday at a ninth-anniversary event for streaming giant iQiyi, though she arrived late and didn’t answer media questions. “iQiyi hosted a closed-door event of entertainment professionals, unrelated to any specific projects,” the company told Variety in response to a query about Fan’s attendance.
Industry watchers saw her presence as an attempt to assess public reception of her re-emergence months after she issued a groveling public apology and was ordered to pay more than $100 million in penalties and back taxes. Reactions on social media to her re-appearance suggest that Fan could face a tough road back to public favor.
At the iQiyi event, she wore what is assumed to be sponsored luxury clothing – an Alexander McQueen suit, a Louis Vuitton handbag, and De Beers jewelry – in a sign that the fashion world, at least, appears ready to forgive. (Fan was the public face of Louis Vuitton and De Beers for years before her fall from grace.) A selfie of the star holding up a V-for-victory hand gesture in the company of Yue Hua Entertainment CEO Du Hua has made the rounds online. She herself posted her red-carpet photos on her Instagram account, which has lain more or less dormant since last May.
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Commenting on the post, Jessica Chastain wrote “Beautiful” with a heart emoji. Chastain is set to begin shooting this year alongside Fan, Lupita Nyong’o, Penelope Cruz and Marion Cotillard in the all-woman spy thriller “355,” directed by Simon Kinberg, a film whose fate had been uncertain in the wake of the Fan’s fall from grace.
The response in Fan’s home country, whose highly censored online space is often swept up in fits of nationalism, has been much frostier, with many netizens apparently unwilling to forgive and forget.
Under the top news story about her iQiyi appearance on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, amidst the comments extolling her beauty, hundreds of thousands had posted and liked vitriolic retorts, many calling her a thick-skinned liar.
“So we’re supposed to pretend that nothing happened?” wrote one commenter, while another added sarcastically: “It’s so great to be an artist in China – Chinese people apparently only have a three second-long memory.”
Another said of her tax evasion: “If an act is wrong, even if thousands upon thousands of people are doing the same thing, it’s still wrong.”
On Wednesday, her beauty brand Fan Beauty announced the launch of a “seagrape deep hydrating water gel” face mask, which goes on sale in Hong Kong on Friday. Included was a promotional video message from the actress.
Last month, Fan was photographed at the opening of a new beauty salon in central Beijing. Although the designer Zhang Shuai publicly stated that it was his business venture, Chinese databases show that Fan’s mother holds 98% of shares and her father the other 2%.
Membership cards begin at RMB50,000 ($7,400) and go up to RMB1 million ($148,000), leaked photos circulating online showed.
Since last fall, Fan has posted only a few times on either Chinese or foreign social media: wishing fans a happy lunar new year in February on Instagram (a platform blocked in China), giving a shout-out to Chinese film “The Crossing” in March, and honoring firefighters who battled a big forest fire in the southwestern province of Sichuan in April.