Chinese actress Fan Bingbing cries real tears after filming an emotional scene for the film East Wind Rain in Shanghai in 2009. All photos by Rian Dundon.

My 9 Months on the Road With Fan Bingbing, China’s Biggest Movie Star

A decade before her disappearance, the Angelina Jolie of China hired me as her tutor. I got a crash course in China’s dizzying celebrity-industrial complex.

As a figurehead of the Middle Kingdom’s wishful dalliance with Hollywood hit making, Bingbing’s crossover to international superstardom seemed inevitable.

Tall, with a slender jaw, a smooth complexion, aquiline nose, and cavernous coal-black eyes, Fan Bingbing was alluring and powerful, a fitting avatar for the material yearnings of China’s emergent middle class.

Left: Fan Bingbing waiting outside her Shanghai villa for a chauffeured Mercedes in Shanghai, 2009. Right: Fan Bingbing’s personal assistant poses with a prototype for a new line of collectable children’s dolls based on the actress’ film and TV characters in Shanghai, 2009.
Crowds gather during a promotional appearance by Fan Bingbing at the Juhao Lighting Electric Appliance company in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China 2008.
An actor poses for photos on the set of the Fan’s Studio-produced TV soap opera ‘The Last Night of Madam Chin’ in Shanghai, in 2009.
Fan Bingbing appears alongside American director Oliver Stone in the popular Beijing fashion magazine iLook, in Shanghai, 2009.
Bingbing downs a quick meal of street barbecue in her trailer between takes on the set of the Hong Kong action flick Bodyguards and Assassins in Shanghai, in 2009.
Last minute makeup adjustments on the set of the Zhang Ziyi-produced romantic comedy Sophie’s Revenge in Beijing, in 2008.

I was treated like part of the family, or at least as a member of Bingbing’s inner circle. Clearly, I was serving as some kind of selling point.

The actress dances for her fellow set workers between takes while filming her TV soap opera The Last Night of Madam Chin in Shanghai, 2009.

I began to understand what Chinese workplace hierarchy really meant.

Left: Exhausted TV extras sleep between takes at an all-night location shoot at a nightclub in Shanghai, 2009. Right: Sea cucumber is served at a client’s banquet, thrown to honor Fan Bingbing’s arrival for a marketing event in Shenzhen, China in 2009.
Bingbing’s personal assistant Lan Lan waits in attendance while the star goes over English study materials in her trailer on set in Shanghai, in 2009.

Beijing is not West LA, and a Chinese actress, no matter how many times she poses for photos with Will Smith or Jessica Chastain, is still beholden to the Communist Party.

Fan Bingbing.

Photographer + writer. Former Timeline picture editor.

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