Now that China is open, the Cannes red carpet business swung into action with a multitude of Chinese stars, influencers and total unknowns flooding the festival’s famed promenade.
Those who aren’t widely known are mostly red carpet lovers rather than film fans. Before the pandemic, there was already a healthy business model servicing Chinese influencers who want to meander down the carpet like stars.
They are all dressed and made up, going to various premieres, then being ushered off the carpet by security for blocking real celebrities. At home, their own social media is flooded with elegant poses and descriptions of how they spent the night among stars.
For those who show up on the red carpet with the sole purpose of being seen, there is a special Chinese verb: “ceng.” And the budget for “ceng” on the Cannes red carpet has certainly grown.
This year is the first post-pandemic comeback and business has been good.
A ticket to the opening/closing nights is priced between 7,000 euros and 10,000 euros, including the limo ride. And there are other Chinese professionals camped out at Cannes ready to serve. An edited three-minute video is 2,000 euros to 3,000 euros, and around 300 euros to 500 euros will buy one a set of four photos on the red carpet.
There are five-day show-off packages available for sale, which usually include a ticket, photo and video clips. These go from 250,000 renminbi to 400,000 renminbi, or $35,000 to $56,500. These packages are for “ceng” regulars, who book way in advance. Makeup and styling, including a borrowed dress, are also included in the package.
A more elegant way to get on the red carpet is to be sponsored by a brand or a media company.
Jia Nailiang, a former Chinese actor who turned to livestream shopping after a lackluster career as an actor, was on the Cannes red carpet. He is now among the top sellers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, with a high daily turnover in the millions. Nailiang had a rather blank gaze; no one knew who he was. As he walked down the red carpet waving, the paparazzi took a break to rest their arms.
But Jia was quite busy in Cannes — aside from trodding the red carpet, he was also streaming. Someone like Jia was most likely invited by a brand to come to Cannes and the company provided the chance to walk the red carpet.
Media outlets such as Figaro China also emulated Vanity Fair and W magazine by hosting their own parties at Cannes. The cost of the party was probably worthwhile as brands are looking for celebrities to help push their product in the Chinese market. A onetime sponsorship is a good way to start a relationship.
One of the highlights of Cannes this year was Fan Bing Bing’s return to the public eye in China. Social media loved her numerous extravagant, shoulder-baring outfits. There was speculation that she had more than 20 pieces of luggage for Cannes.
The fact that she was trending at Cannes means the end of her ban. The banning of a celebrity in China has different degrees, so Fan must have very good backing to make a comeback. Only a year ago she was not even allowed to sell her own line of cosmetics in direct streaming shops.
She was invited to every party as well as the opening night. The comeback was total. But Fan was never totally banned — her work as an actress remained available during it. This is an indication that one day she will be back. Other banned actors were punished with a total blackout of their presence on the Chinese internet, as well as all their presence in film, television and online streaming.
The two Chinese films in “Un Certain Regard” as part of the competition at the festival also received some attention in China. Both films star A-list Chinese actors.
Chinese producers are very tight-lipped about the film before its official release in China. As one producer told me: “Loose lips sink ships. We don’t want any wrong message on the internet that might get the film banned.”
There was literally not a single word about Wang Bin’s film “Youth: Spring.” It was the only film by a Chinese filmmaker in the main competition. Wang is a documentary filmmaker of international renown. His films are narratives of the daily life of an average Chinese person. Lots of grime and hard words; not much glamour. None of his films have been released in China.
As far as the people in Wang’s films are concerned, the Cannes Film Festival is just the red carpet. The fact that it is the festival that made Chinese films known internationally is totally lost on the current generation of filmgoers in China.
So it’s likely that, as the ideological divide widens between China and the West, the Cannes Film Festival, for the Chinese, is likely to remain only about the carpet for the time being.
Editor’s note: China File is a recurring column by Hung Huang offering observations of trends in China.