Hong Kong Star Donnie Yen Sues Producers Behind Flop 'Frozen Hero II' for Defamation

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Photofest
Donnie Yen in 'Rogue One'

Yen reacted with legal action against a post on the film's official blog that put the blame for the film's poor performance squarely on his shoulders.

Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen is suing the backers of the critically slammed flop The Frozen Hero II for defamation. 

The Frozen Hero II, headlined by Yen, debuted in China on Nov. 2. It has one of the lowest ratings of this year's releases on review aggregation website Douban, scoring 2.7 out of 10. With a budget of $28.8 million (RMB200 million), it has grossed $4.94 million (RMB34.3 million) in two weeks.

The saga is unveiling some of the more unconventional film promotion tactics in China.

A post appeared in early November on the film's official blog absolving director Raymond Yip and writer Manfred Wong of blame and accusing Yen as the culprit in the time-traveling actioner's failure at the box office and the negative reviews. The post listed Yen's three major alleged offenses, claiming the Rogue One actor had interfered during filming with the script and the action direction, and with post-production, resulting in a film with a 87-minute running time and an incoherent plot. The post also maintained that Yen had refused to cooperate to wear a wig and failed to participate in the contractually stipulated promotion before the film's release. It asked, "What are the concepts of contractual obligations and professional ethics to him?" The post was deleted four hours after it was posted.

Yen, on location in New Zealand for the Disney live-action Mulan, took action the day after the post was uploaded, writing on his own blog on China's microblogging service Sina Weibo that he was "furious." He listed 20 points refuting the accusations, calling the post "fabricated," "malicious slander," "shameless" and "immoral." He noted that the film was shot in 2013, and the backers should know clearly why it took so long for it to be released. He said he was not familiar with the Chinese backers of the film, who are believed to be behind the blog post. He opined, "If they said an actor had such a strong power in changing the script, controlling the shooting, editing, promotion, wouldn't he also have the power to stop a film's release?"

Then he asked, "The financing partners of the film are experienced in presenting films before, how can you so stupidly accept the promotional partner's despicable 'hyping strategy' to discredit an actor and simultaneously discredit your own film? How can you believe that by maliciously dissing an actor, you can bring a higher rating for the film and consequently better box office results?"

Yen also denied any involvement in post-production, sarcastically declaring that the backers believed he was in possession of a "god-like superpower of changing other people's will." In addition, he revealed that he signed the actor's contract with the Hong Kong-listed HMV Digital China Group, and the remainder fee has not yet been paid.

HMV Digital China Group, which is responsible for the film's overseas distribution, later also issued a statement to denounce the post, name-checking promotional partner Beijing Qi Tai Cultural Development Group for bad-mouthing an actor to generate news, calling it "inappropriate behavior and tactic" and declaring its "strong condemnation."

A week later, on Nov. 13, a letter from the Beijing-based Celera Law Firm was posted on Yen's company's blog to announce it was now in the process of filing a lawsuit to protect the actor's right to his "reputation, character, and dignity." Meanwhile, Yen announced that he would donate any payout from the lawsuit to charity.

Although the war of words did put the film under the spotlight, it actually drew more attention to how bad it was. This sequel to the 2013's Iceman, which likewise starred Yen and was rated 3.6 on Douban, grossed $50,450 during its second week of release, and only $2,306 on Sunday.