Netizens call for boycott of sports bio on Chinese tennis player Li Na directed by HK director Peter Chan, casting a shadow on its future box office performance
Published: Mar 18, 2021 11:03 PM
Chinese retired tennis player Li Na Photo: IC

Chinese retired tennis player Li Na Photo: IC

 The distribution rights to Hong Kong director Peter Chan’s sports bio of former Chinese tennis player Li Na have been sold, according to a Tuesday report, but the film’s potential box office appears grim as Chinese netizens are calling for a boycott of the work due to a scandal involving the former sports star. 

Shooting on the film, starring famous Chinese actor Hu Ge as well as French actor Vincent Cassel, ended in 2019, but a release date has not yet been set. 

According to reports on Tuesday, Chinese company Huawen Pictures has purchased the distribution rights for the film from Huanxi Media, the exclusive investor in the film, for 600 million yuan ($92 million).

The news caught the attention of Chinese netizens, but instead of cheering, the atmosphere quickly turned dark as many called to boycott the film due to accusations that Li once tried to defame China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in a social media post. 

Li, a retired Chinese tennis player, achieved a career-high WTA ranking of world No. 2 on February 17, 2014. Over the course of her career, Li won nine WTA Tour singles titles including two Grand Slam singles titles at the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open. Her rise to prominence came after those victories, which made her the first Grand Slam singles champion from Asia, male or female.

The film will supposedly focus on Li’s career and her sports spirit, but the athlete’s previous scandals have cast a shadow over her reputation. 

“I refuse to watch the movie, even though it was directed by a famous director and is sure to be well made, because Li Na posted that photo defaming the PLA in 2017. And she has not apologized to the PLA as of today,” one Sina Weibo user commented.

In 2017, a scandal involving a Chinese kindergarten abusing children ignited condemnation on Chinese social media. At the time, Li forwarded a cartoon picture on her Sina Weibo account that condemned the criminals who had maltreated the children, but the cartoon was widely seen as defaming Chinese soldiers. 

In the cartoon, an ugly devil with a gun grasps a crying little girl who is embracing a toy. The cartoon was later discovered by Chinese netizens to have been painted by a member of the Falun Gong, an illegal cult.

The image of the devil was seen by netizens as an attack against Chinese soldiers because at the time there was a rumor that the kindergarten was related to the PLA, although this was later proved to be false. Since the incident, Li has been widely criticized and given the cold shoulder by netizens.

“It will be hard for the movie to get out from under the shadow of condemnation of Li Na,” Shi Wenxue, a film critic based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday, adding that he is not optimistic about the film’s performance at the box office.

He noted that since the two companies signed the agreement, it will most likely be released, but that the low sale price of the distribution rights, which he feels should have sold for 800 million yuan based on the 300 million yuan invested in the film, indicates the distributor is not confident about the film. 

This is the second sports movie from Chan. His first sports film Leap, about China's legendary national women's volleyball team, was released in the Chinese mainland in September 2020 and went on to earn 836 million yuan at the box office.