BLAME IT ON ...
A movie star, whose meteoric rise gave hope to the masses, has left the public divided with his marital woes.
Wang Baoqiang has filed for divorce. And half of China is said to have an opinion on it — and eagerly expressed it.
That may be an exaggeration. But it is hard to deny that the movie star’s family matters threatened to steal the thunder from the Rio Olympics.
Entertainment celebrities are always providing fodder for gossip with their romances and fallouts, but Wang is no ordinary movie star. He is the inspiration for a vast demographic group.
Wang is the most dramatic rags-to-riches story in China’s moviedom. He was not trained in any of the acting schools and he does not possess movie-star looks. At the age of 19, he was plucked from the milling crowd in front of Beijing Film Studio by director Li Yang for a small but crucial role in Blind Shaft. While the movie was never officially released in China, it got rave notices internationally and Wang got the attention of director Feng Xiaogang, who cast him in a much higherprofile role in A World Without Thieves the next year.
This blockbuster turned Wang into a household name and he quickly appeared in several television drama series, all of which became hits. Even though the inevitable bombs came later, his hitand-miss ratio over a 13-year career has been much higher than most A-list stars.
And Wang did it with a Forrest Gump-like serendipity. In almost all his signature roles, he played a simpleton oblivious to worldly complications and treachery, and whose honesty and perseverance eventually led to triumph over all adversities. This persona of the classic Chinese peasant boy is widely reported to be based on the actor himself.
That’s why his meteoric rise against all odds has always been viewed as the symbolic success of the grassroots. Many disenfranchised youth derive a sense of vicarious fulfillment from his story that when he married the beautiful Ma Rong it seemed to put a nice finishing touch to a fairy tale.
But fairy tales do not last in real life. In the August 14 statement he issued, Wang talked about his loyalty to his family and the betrayal of his wife, who he accused of engaging in an illicit affair with his agent Song Zhe.
It was a form of doubling the double-cross as the agent is usually the closest working partner of someone in this line of work.
What happened next has divided the country into two clear camps. Millions of people stopped watching the Olympics on television and went on a campaign to denounce the “unfaithful wife and the cheating agent”. But the nation’s talking heads have overwhelmingly chosen to target Wang for criticism. They said what he did amounts to dragging into the open family skeletons that belong in the closet. “It is not graceful to publicly shame the mother of your children,” wrote one commentator.
The grassroots who tend to leave short comments below online articles or celebrity blogs and commentators who write long pieces rarely see eye to eye on issues of public interest, not in China, not elsewhere in the world. But never has the chasm between the hoi polloi and the elitists, so called by some analysts, been so wide and unbridgeable.
For the public, this is an open-and-shut case. Wang is a superstar who is a self-made man. He doted on his wife and children. Even though he is no match for his wife in appearance, this shortcoming was overcome by the fame and fortune he has amassed. On the other hand, the “sin” committed by the “cheating couple” was so classic it violated the golden rule of what a wife and a friend should abide by. For all they know, this could be a modern variation of the Pan Jinlian-Ximen Qing-Wu Dalang triangle from Outlaws on the Marsh.
For the elitists, the seeds of this crisis lie in Wang’s lack of education and sophistication, which did not prepare him for a relationship with someone obviously in another league both in education and looks. The way he publicized the family scandal is testament to his boorish upbringing.
Call it the negative version of: “You can take a boy out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the boy.” Wang may earn 26 million yuan ($3.9 million) a year and own nine properties in Beijing and Los Angeles, but he cannot change the “country bumpkin” persona that he really is, they said. You see, he is not a method actor and the reason he is valued on the silver screen is the same reason he does not have bombshells falling all over him.
It seems unnecessary, but I’ll have to qualify my commentary by saying I do not personally know either Wang or Ma or Song. Even if I were a friend of theirs, as many claim online, I would not know everything that happened between them. Spousal squabbles are very common and you’d have to listen to both sides before you can get anything close to an unbiased picture.
Assuming everything Wang said was true, there are still crucial questions that puzzle me: Was Ma in love with him in the first fewyears of their six-year marriage or was she a gold-digger from the start? Is Wang prone to violence as she seems to suggest or was he provoked into it— if it did happen?
It may feel right to heap scorn on the adulterers, but if you’re Wang’s friend you may refrain from doing it. As the old saying goes, couples quarrel on one side of the bed and mend ties on the other. So you’ll be a fool if you badmouth one of them while the fight is still on.
As for the elitist view, it’s well, just too elitist. The assumption that Wang could not satisfy his wife intellectually or otherwise is simply reading too much into a couple they know nothing about other than the schools they attended. It was not only a put-down of Wang, whose success had a big dollop of street smarts and natural talent on top of the streak of luck he had, but was also demeaning to the wife, essentially implying that she was in it for the money all along.
Why not leave them to sort things out? They can seek out lawyers, marriage counselors and all forms of professional assistance if they want.
As the old saying goes, couples quarrel on one side of the bed and mend ties on the other. So you’ll be a fool if you bad-mouth one of them while the fight is still on.