Taiwanese Star Fired From Alibaba-Backed Chinese Film Over Politics

Vicki Zhao P

Chinese actress-turned-director Vicki Zhao removed veteran actor Leon Dai from her film over his alleged support for Taiwanese independence from mainland China.

Veteran Taiwanese actor Leon Dai has been dropped from Chinese film No Other Love because of his alleged support for Taiwanese independence.

The film is the second directorial effort of actress Zhao Wei, one of China's biggest stars. It is partially financed by Alibaba Pictures Group, the filmmaking arm of Jack Ma's global e-commerce giant. Beijing-based Max Film is the leading production company behind the project. 

Trouble began brewing around the film last last month, when the Communist Youth League, a junior training ground of sorts for the Chinese Communist Party elite, began a coordinated social media campaign bashing Zhao (also known as Vicki Zhao) for selecting Dai (Assassin, Double Vision) as her lead.

In an widely circulated article entitled "Zhao Wei’s New Film Met with Universal Boycott by Internet Users," the nationalist organization alleged that Dai was a supporter of Taiwanese independence and Hong Kong's pro-democracy Umbrella Movement — political issues of particular consternation among the Chinese government leadership. China views Taiwan as part of its sovereign territory, to be united by force if necessary.

On Friday, the production team released a statement announcing that Dai had been removed from the film after he failed to "provide a fuller explanation to the public and state his stance more clearly on important issues."

The statement added: "Because Dai remained vague on his stance, the director and investors decided to replace Dai as the lead actor."

No Other Love finished principle photography in June and was already in postproduction, so the abrupt casting shake-up will entail extensive re-shoots. A new lead actor has not yet been announced.

“The director and the entire crew dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to China,” the production team's statement continued. “We are all Chinese, and we firmly support the one China policy. Our country’s interests are our top priorities."

On June 30, Dai posted a statement on Weibo in response to attacks. He conceded that he had spoken out on issues of gay rights and nuclear power in Taiwan, but insisted that he was not a member of any political party. "I am against oppression and respect the views of other people," he added, saying that to characterize him as a supporter of Taiwan's independence was inaccurate. 

A well-known figure in greater China, Dai has appeared in over a dozen films since 2012, most notably Hou Hsiao-hsien's critically acclaimed Cannes competition entry The Assassin (2015).

Chinese nationalists often have tried to exert political influence over Asian entertainment figures. In January, 16-year-old Taiwanese K-pop singer Tzuyu became embroiled in a controversy after waving the Taiwanese flag during a South Korean online variety show. The gesture was promptly characterized as a statement of support for Taiwanese independence, and her Chinese concerts, along with a local endorsement deal, were canceled. Tzuyu later filmed and posted a video apologizing and stating that she believes there is "only one China."