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Veteran director Feng Xiaogang’s brief cameo in Jia Zhangke’s latest film Ash Is Purest White was noticeably missing from the film’s Sept. 16 premiere in China, but was surprisingly present in the movie’s New York Film Festival screening, and U.S. premiere, Monday night.
Feng’s scene was included in Ash Is Purest White’s initial release at the Cannes Film Festival in May, but when it wasn’t in the version of Ash that was unveiled in China, there was speculation that the cut cameo was possibly connected to the sudden disappearance of China’s highest-paid actress, Fan Bingbing.
It’s unclear if the version of Ash that screened at the New York Film Festival is a new cut, and Feng’s cameo has been restored, or if the festival screened the Cannes cut. Neither the festival nor the film’s U.S. distributor responded to The Hollywood Reporter‘s requests for comment.
The Cannes premiere was also one of Fan’s last major public appearances. She and Feng have been embroiled in the evasion scandal that’s engulfed much of China’s entertainment industry since late May. Leaked documents appear to show two acting contracts for the upcoming film Cell Phone 2, a sequel to Feng’s 2003 hit starring Fan, which allegedly demonstrate a common yet illegal tax-dodge scheme knowing as “ying-yang contracting.” The names on the docs were redacted, but they purportedly show that Fan claimed $1.56 million (10 million yuan) for four days of work on Cell Phone 2, when her true pay actually totaled an additional $7.8 million (50 million yuan).
Fan’s representatives have denied any wrongdoing; however, China’s State Administration of Taxation announced the launch of a series of investigations — including one in China’s Jiangsu Province, where Fan’s company is based.
Since Fan was last seen on July 1, she’s been the subject of rumors as to her whereabouts, ranging from claims that she’s under the custody of Chinese authorities or hiding out in Los Angeles seeking asylum in the United States. Fan’s fans believe that she was just caught in the crossfire between Feng and former state television anchor Cui Yongyuan, who initially leaked the docs. He’s long accused Feng and the Chinese film studio behind Cell Phone of slander. He claims the plot of the film is loosely based on his life, but because of certain liberties it took, his reputation was damaged.
Jia participated in a Q&A after the film Monday, though there was no mention of Feng. Jia has remained cryptic about any rework involving him, only discussing the matter when answering a reporter’s question after the Beijing premiere. “When I was writing this script, I kept coming back to one line: ‘It’s hard to explain in a few words, and it arouses complex feelings.’ This is the feeling I was going for in the film, and this is how I am feeling right now,” Jia said, without elaborating any further.
Ash Is Purest White chronicles the love story between a young rural woman (Zhao Tao) and a low-level crook (Liao Fan) within a time frame spanning from 2001 to 2017. During Monday’s Q&A, Jia said that the film juxtaposes the evolution of the characters’ relationship with the transformation of China — the latter of which is a common theme in much of his work.
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