BLAME IT ON ...

A movie star, whose me­te­oric rise gave hope to the masses, has left the pub­lic di­vided with his mar­i­tal woes.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - RAY­MOND ZHOU Con­tact the writer at ray­mondzhou@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

LI RU­IN­ING / FOR CHINA DAILY

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