Feng Xiaogang Lashes out at China’s Richest Man over ‘Bovary’ Interference

Feng accuses Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin of creating a monopoly to punish rival Huayi Brothers.

Director and actor Feng Xiaogang

Director and actor Feng Xiaogang

Veteran Chinese director Feng Xiaogang took to Chinese social media on Friday to protest Wanda Cinema Line’s apparent decision to limit screenings of his latest film I Am Not Madame Bovary (我不是潘金莲), claiming the company was taking advantage of its “monopoly” position in the market unfairly.

In an open to letter to Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, the veteran director said that the real-estate-to-entertainment conglomerate had become a “monopoly” in China that was on track to “buy up Hollywood” and was acting unfairly to scupper the chances of his highly-anticipated social satire.

Written in the form of an allegory, the letter drew parallels between the plight of Huayi Brothers, who Feng characterized as a “small company trying to carve a small niche in the market,” going up against the might of the company owned by China’s richest man, Wang Jianlin, with the downtrodden female protagonist of Bovary.

“Word on the street is that this little company is going to be punished by having its films boycotted at Wanda Cinema Line’s theaters,” the director wrote in the voice of Bovary’s female protagonist.

“No, no, no, Chairman Wang, this young woman has used the wrong words yet again. You’ve left some room to maneuver by allowing a few sessions – just enough to leave us gasping for air and with a little face.”

The black comedy starring Fan Bingbing, was lauded for “its ambitious rendering of a woman’s Kafkaesque struggle as she takes on the Chinese legal system” at the Toronto International Film Festival, and sees A-list star Fan as a cafe owner caught in a bureaucratic maze after she is swindled by her ex-husband.

Bovary, which opens at cinemas in China, Friday, November 18, has been given slots in 40 percent of the available screening times in rival cinemas, but only 10.9 percent at Wanda Cinema Line’s theaters.

The open letter goes on to obliquely suggest that Wanda’s aim is to weaken its competition so that it can eventually buy them up and fold them into its rapidly-expanding global entertainment empire.

Feng ends the letter on a caustic note, reflecting the black comedy of his new film: “I wish Chairman Wang happiness and early success in his great quest of forming a monopoly.”

Originally scheduled for release on September 30, Feng Xiaogang’s black comedy will finally hit cinema screens on Friday. Rumors have swirled, even on state-controlled media, that the film had earlier failed to get censorship approval.

By some estimates, Dalian Wanda Group already holds about 18 percent of the country’s screens, making it the largest exhibitor. On Monday, Wanda Cinemas’ CEO Zeng Maojun indicated the company intends to add a further 150 theaters this year.

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It’s not the first time the two companies have been at loggerheads over film screenings. In July, Wanda only arranged the bare minimum of screenings for rival Huayi Brother’s animated feature Rock Dog (摇滚藏獒).

Is Wanda Sabotaging Huayi’s ‘Rock Dog’s Box Office Chances?

Industry watchers continue to speculate that the reason for the underwhelming screening arrangement is Wanda’s way of exacting revenge on Huayi Brothers for successfully poaching executive Jerry Ye(叶宁) from them in March.

China Film Insider sought but did not receive further comment from Huayi Brothers beyond the statement put out by director Feng. A spokesperson for Wanda said the company would not be providing a response.

Feng, who has who has been described by Newsweek as “China’s Spielberg,” signed with Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency (CAA), in August.

Blockbuster Director Feng Xiaogang Signs with CAA

He is one of the country’s most successful directors, with blockbusters including The Banquet, Aftershock and If You Are the One,. and is known for his outspokenness — at times taking aim at excessive censorship from China’s film officials as well as decrying the “low quality” of below-the-line workers in the industry.

On Wednesday, Huayi Brothers screened Bovary at a new high-end cinema in the company’s new headquarters in Beijing.

Huayi CEO Wang Zhongjun said at the ceremony that the company had delayed the opening of the new cinema because they wanted Feng’s new film to be the first to screen there.

— Additional reporting by Qingyuan Wang