The Life, Death, And Resurrection Of Fan Bingbing

The actress of the I Am Not Madame Bovary and X-Men: Days of Future Past fame is back with a vengeance.
fan bingbing grazia

The undisputed fashion maven of the East, actress Fan Bingbing fronts GRAZIA Malaysia’s September 2023 cover.

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 fighting off the rumour mill and there’s Fan Bingbing

Her tragic fall from grace five years ago is still fresh in memory. 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 guess 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 in that 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’s an order to limit on-screen talent’s 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 it seems like 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 Tony Ward halter dress and green cape, and shut down Paris Haute Couture Week with show-stopping ensembles. Now, she’s on the cover of GRAZIA Malaysia’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 said, 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, before sharing her method of overcoming hardship. 

fan bingbing grazia

“I see myself inclining towards characters that represent women. I want to empower women with my roles and encourage them to express themselves.”

“Working out or confiding in someone. I never let negative emotions affect me,” she put it simply. Indeed, being in the public eye means opening herself up for scrutiny and the pressure is especially insurmountable in this day and age with the notoriety of social media and the unforgiving fandom 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 reflected. “That means we as performers need to constantly improve and equip ourselves with great content and performances to captivate the audience,” she added.

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. 

Second Act

All those exciting possibilities aside, Fan Bingbing is a staple of cinema and that is not going to change anytime soon. Her showing up at the Berlinale early this year to launch her new project Green Night was a homecoming—she attended in 2007 for the premiere of Li Yu’s Lost in Beijing—that signalled her adamant insistence to reclaim her rightful place on the silver screen.

“I was as excited and nervous as I was back then. I couldn’t wait to see all the feedback we would be getting, and just hoped everyone would enjoy it,” she said. Seeing that the Shuai Han-directed feminist fable received rapturous reviews out of the gate, which shows a promising sign that it would find its audience upon release, 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 said. 

“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.”

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-villain trope.

Her decision to star in a small arthouse film also raised some eyebrows especially those who have become accustomed to seeing the bankable star headlining big studio tentpoles in recent years, but Fan was 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.

fan bingbing grazia
TOD’S, Blouse, Skirt, Belt.

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 would need to always keep myself in check and hopefully empower people and bring joy,” she said, before sharing her secret to having longevity and staying at the top of her game. 

“Stay motivated, stay curious, keep an unwavering determination and focus on every endeavour. All of these keep me going and growing.”

Also Read: The Best Movies and TV Series to Catch in September 2023

Photography: Issac Lam

Styling & Creative Direction: Ian Loh

Hair: Eda Lee

Hair Assistant: Eki Ho

Makeup: Bonnie Hu

Photography Assistant: Jason Li, Clark Kiano Carmeron

Gaffer: Hsiao, Tk, Fei Lung

Styling Assistant: Clover Yuen

Producer: Hidi Lee

Art Director: Owen Lo Yuk Chi (Of Studio)

Art Team: Paco Luk, Yanis Wong, Ivan Ko, Duncan Lui, Checkyu Learn

Production Assistant: Mk Suen, Neo Man

Interview Translation: Lorraine Chai

Interview Assistance: Wasabi Lee