With Fan Bingbing TV series set to air, tax scandal appears forgiven

She’s back – after a two-year absence from Chinese showbiz world, Fan Bingbing is set to return to the small screen in a 500 million yuan (S$100 million) TV drama series that has been in limbo since a tax evasion scandal in 2018.

Win the World, a period drama based on a historical figure from the Qin dynasty (221BC-206BC), will air on video platform Youku, according to Chinese media reports. Its launch date has not been announced. Alibaba , which owns Youku, also owns the South China Morning Post.

Produced by Talent Television and Film and starring Fan, China’s leading actress, and actor Gao Yunxiang, the show is said to be the most expensive TV series ever made in China.

Fan plays Qing, a widow and a prominent female entrepreneur who helps Qin Shi Huang (Gao), the founder of the Qin dynasty and the first emperor of a unified China, bankroll the construction of the Great Wall.

The series was to have aired in 2018 until off-set drama involving both leads halted production and it was shelved indefinitely.

Fan’s downfall has been widely publicised. When the Chinese government began cracking down on tax evasion among high-earning celebrities in 2018, it was discovered that Fan owed more than 255 million yuan in unpaid taxes, of which 200 million yuan was regarded as tax evasion.

She and her companies were ordered to pay what was owed, and fined about 600 million yuan.

A few months before that, the then-married Gao was arrested in Sydney, Australia after a woman accused him of sexual assault. The actor was not allowed to leave the country until the court case had ended.

In March this year, the 37-year-old was acquitted of five counts of sexual assault and two counts of indecent assault. He was then seen returning to China.

At one point, Talent Television and Film planned to digitally replace Gao with Fan’s then-boyfriend Li Chen.

In China’s entertainment industry, it is not uncommon to see productions featuring disgraced stars shelved indefinitely – which is why the news that Win the World will be released on Youku has been met with some surprise.

Citing correspondence between Talent Television and Film and the authorities, Chinese media have reported that the drama series will air without the two leads being swapped out. The series will also be cut down from 76 episodes to around 60.

Since the tax evasion scandal Fan has made few public appearances, and has stuck mainly to promoting beauty products.

However, her appearance on the covers of international magazines including the Russian edition of French fashion magazine L’Officiel and American fashion and culture magazine Flaunt prompted talk a comeback for the actress was imminent.

News of the scheduled broadcast of Win the World has been greeted with enthusiasm by her fans.

Fan, 38, who gained international fame as a fashion icon and for her appearances in the X-Men and Iron Man film franchises, is the most famous and bankable star to have been incriminated in the crackdown on tax evasion.

Other film and TV productions in which she featured have been either suspended or have not aired, among them the film Cell Phone 2 , the sequel to Chinese hit social comedy Cell Phone, which was directed by filmmaker Feng Xiaogang.

Other films starring Fan that have yet to see the light of day include The King’s Daughter, in which she plays a mermaid captured by King Louis XIV of France (Pierce Brosnan) who is on a quest for immortality, as well as Hollywood spy caper 355, which at also stars Hollywood actresses Jessica Chastain and Penélope Cruz.