Guide Enigmatic Pilot: A Tall Tale Too True

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The system was instituted in , under President Xi Jinping, making it legal for the Chinese secret police to detain anyone charged with endangering state security or committing corruption and hold them at an undisclosed location for up to six months without access to lawyers or family members. Sources close to Fan told me that she had been picked up by plainclothes police. While under detention, she was forbidden to make public statements or use her phone. After her release, Fan issued an obsequious apology on social media. I offer my sincere apology here once again! It could have been worse.

Mr V the Mysterious Pilot | Hank Boerner

Until , first-time tax offenders in China could be charged with criminal liability. And until , economic crimes such as tax evasion were punishable by death. For decades, film workers received salaries on par with factory workers, and most movies were imported from Hollywood. The rest were stored at the national granary, in climate-uncontrolled archives.


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Then, after , the government decided there was big money to be made in movies. They snapped up the U. For the past four years, China has been building 25 new movie screens every day. Last year, after Fan turned down the role of the Chinese oceanographer in The Meg , a sci-fi thriller produced by Warner Bros. Fan seemed poised to become that impossible thing: a star who can appease fans in the three Chinas—mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong—as well as Hollywood studios, and their sudden desire for Asian faces.

Discs were organized not by title or category but by actor. Nicole Kidman, whom many Chinese consider a vision of unimpeachable beauty, also got her own row. Others—Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams, even Meryl Streep—were relegated to a row seemingly reserved for miscellaneous white actresses. In the years that the Chinese film industry was allowed to grow unregulated, it became common for stars to falsify contracts to avoid paying taxes on the huge sums that they were commanding. The government claims that economic output grew by 6.

With consumer spending slowing and foreign investment plunging in the midst of a trade war, the government is seeking to redirect economic power back under state control. In March , President Xi established the National Supervision Commission, granting it sweeping powers to investigate corruption and tax evasion. Suspects could now be legally kidnapped, interrogated, and held for as long as six months. That same month, he also gave the Central Publicity Department, which heads up propaganda efforts, the authority to regulate the film industry.

The only other time film was put under the propaganda ministry, according to industry insiders, was during the Cultural Revolution. Films that had passed the censors years ago have now been retroactively banned. An eminent TV news anchor was taken away hours before going on air. A retired professor with views critical of the government was dragged away during a live interview on Voice of America. A billionaire was abducted from his private quarters in the Four Seasons in Hong Kong. Other high-profile disappearances include Interpol president Meng Hongwei in September, photojournalist Lu Guang in November, two Canadians who went missing in December, as well as the writer Yang Hengjun, who went missing in January.

Fear of the system, where no matter how high you are, from one day to the next you can disappear. When I arrived in Beijing, just before Christmas, everyone in the film industry seemed to be in a state of panic. Those who paid up would not be fined. The authorities also declared that special tax zones, which had allowed stars to pay lower taxes, were no longer legal. Tax rates in the zones could be as low as 0. Now, overnight, those working in the film industry would be taxed at the highest rate—45 percent.

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And all this was to be paid for not only but also for the two previous fiscal years, dating back to January The rising fear was palpable on WeChat, where people were sharing ad hoc formulas meant to help calculate how much tax they owed in lieu of any official guidelines.

Scores of films have been put on hold. Others were rushing to meet with their accountants, or were holed up in their offices reviewing past budget sheets. Victoria Mao, who runs a production company, told me that all of her projects had been put on hold just days earlier, after she received a call from the tax bureau asking her to self-audit.

People were even more reticent than usual to talk on the phone. Morgan, who is widely credited for introducing Jackie Chan to Hollywood, described how things have changed since he came to China in Now the bureaucracy is catching up with the industry. After the government issued the new tax directive, screenwriters had protested to the authorities, who in turn agreed to tax income on original screenplays at only 16 percent, the maximum rate on intellectual property.

This enraged directors, who were being taxed the full 45 percent for their work. If a completed movie is not intellectual property, they demanded, then what is? My first Saturday in Beijing, I attended a dinner at the home of an actor. Dinner begins early in the city, and by the time I arrived, at seven P. And those were only the dishes I could discern. Before we sat down to eat, the actor, who had moved in only two days before, offered to give his guests a tour of the multi-million-dollar home. We walked past a rock garden and a patio that opens up to a sweeping view of the city that was at once dystopian and weirdly beautiful.

Because the house was shaped like something from outer space, and because I had fallen into a jet-lagged sleep the night before watching a dubbed version of the new Blade Runner , and because I was about to eat dishes I would never learn the names of, I felt like I had been transported into the future. The dinner party consisted entirely of film people. Even those who were meeting for the first time that evening discovered they had many friends in common, and bonded quickly. Now Zhao, who had recently been banned from the stock market for misleading investors, was rushing to pay her back taxes before the December 31 deadline.

As we moved on to more expensive wine, the talk turned to other colleagues who were scrambling to raise money to pay their back taxes—selling cars, mortgaging homes, taking out loans. Was anyone angry?

We have just the one government. Even worse, no one seemed to know what the new rules were. Around one in the morning, after our host had passed out in one of the guest rooms, a neighbor complained about the noise we were making with the newly installed sound system. The same neighbor, the agent told me, had complained the night before. That party had also gone on for hours, with interminable talk of tax woes over interminable glasses of baijiu.

In , Fan told the South China Morning Post that she had no guanxi , or connections, in show business. But when I walked into the entertainment industry, my family had no guanxi. So I knew I had to risk failure and bear the consequences alone. Throughout her career, Fan has continued to be openly friendly with the authorities. But she had the money to pay, says Zhang, the film executive. So you play ball.

Like many movie stars, Fan is famous more for the iconic traits she embodies than for her talents on-screen. As her fame spread, Fan always made sure to stay in the good graces of the Communist Party. In , she appeared in Sky Hunter , directed by Li Chen, to whom she is now engaged. Like Top Gun , the film is an unabashed work of military propaganda. In one scene, Fan appears in a bomber-pilot outfit, wielding an ax and running to save a boy and his mother.

As the building disappears beneath their feet, Fan gets them to a helicopter just in time. For the most part, Chinese films that have done well in the West have been either art-house pictures like Raise the Red Lantern or martial-arts movies in the tradition of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Until recently, Fan has selected her roles with an eye not for potential exposure in Hollywood but for how she will be received at home.

Her beauty, too, appeals to the domestic market. And the Communist Party, scholars note, has expanded such time-honored definitions of beauty to include devotional sacrifice to the people. Fan, with her mix of patriotism and elegance, hits all the right notes. She is the perfect star for a modern China. Since her release last October, Fan has consciously kept a low profile. Her first post on social media after her public apology was an overt display of fealty to the Chinese government.

Her collaborators followed suit. Creative Artists Agency China, which represents Fan, was rumored to have lost more than half of its income with the scandal, and its agents have been scrambling to sign new talent. One analyst predicts that a third of the Chinese film industry will go out of business in the coming years, leaving fewer than 1, production companies standing. Not since the Cultural Revolution have artists in China been as wary of the state, and as aware of the necessity of appeasing it. But capitalism, once unleashed, does not give up on its privileges and profits easily.

The film industry in China remains huge. A studio movie in America typically opens on fewer than 2, screens. A wide release in China, by contrast, can open on more than 20, screens. More crucially, the country is said to need an estimated , scripts to fill all its available screens and airtime over the next five years. If the story of Fan is the story of modern film in China, then both are far from over. Search refinements Categories. Fiction 5. Music 4. CDs 4. Format see all Format.

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