At the beginning of October, Hong Kong actor and international star Chow Yun-fat became one of the few high-profile local celebrities to speak out on the pro-democracy protests in his native country. Over the past week, a backlash has started to brew against Chow and others who have lent their support to the demonstrators. The stars, of whom Chow is arguably the most famous outside Asia, are the latest this year to take potentially risky positions on global political issues. This summer, Spanish and Korean filmmakers including Pedro Almodovar and Park Chan-wook, denounced Israel’s involvement in the violence in Gaza, sparking ire from onlookers around the world, but no visible impact on their careers. In this case, the Hong Kong bold-faced names are speaking out about a situation that is right in their own backyard — and that backyard belongs to an increasingly disgruntled China where much of their money is made.
A commentary published on the website of the state-run news agency Xinhua last week and aimed at the celebs, read (per a NYT translation): “You have violated the principles of ‘one country, two systems,’ challenged the authority of the central party, ignored the Basic Law, and earned fistfuls of cash only to then turn and scold your motherland.”
Media reports say the stars are being shunned by fans, and even by companies on the Mainland which is the world’s second largest box office market and where a lot of their fanbase resides. Among the other artists to support the Hong Kong protesters are understood to be Infernal Affairs actors Tony Leung, Andy Lau, Chapman To and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang as well as pop singer Denise Ho.
Social media last week started sending out a “blacklist” issued by Beijing authorities that included dozens of celebrity names, the Wall Street Journal said, with instructions to state news outlets and entertainment companies not to promote the stars.
Speaking to the NYT, Ho said, “Regardless of how official the bans might be, they can always achieve the same result by scaring off people or companies who might otherwise want to approach us.” She has had no invitations to perform on the Mainland since she began standing up for the movement, and a fashion brand recently canceled a commitment without giving a reason.
Meanwhile, Taiwanese director and author Giddens Ko, who made the 2011 hit You Are The Apple Of My Eye, has also been targeted. According to The Global Times, which is published by People’s Daily, one of China’s official government newspapers, Ko openly supported Taiwan’s anti-reunification Sunflower Student Movement this spring. This month, he also voiced his support for the Hong Kong movement.
The paper said that despite rumors of a ban on Ko’s books, they are still being sold on the Mainland. However, his latest film as writer, Cafe Waiting Love, underperformed at the box office upon release. His next film, The Graduate, has been postponed due in part to the loss of lead actor Kai Ko who was arrested on drug charges in August, but also, producer Xi Jianhong said, because of Giddens Ko’s political views.
In a bracing comment, Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology told the Global Times, “Celebrities or businessmen are suggested to avoid political topics so as not to risk their career or business. It’s worth pointing out that [as a result of] China’s political environment, most celebrities do not understand politics. Their political views are often naïve.”
Chow Yun-fat and Anthony Wong Chau-Sang appear to be taking any backlash in stride. Regarding a potential blacklist, Chow said, “I’ll just make less then.” Wong, per the Global Times, wrote on his Facebook page that he’ll make more movies in Hong Kong, even though it means taking a pay cut.