Open to negotiation

One of China’s most commercially savvy stars hits a speedbump


Yang Mi: fashion diva who knows how to work an airport photo opp

For fashion houses looking to leverage the star power of celebrity, events like this week’s Academy Awards are heaven-sent. All the major brands spend years courting the top actresses and their stylists. Then they spend tens of thousands of dollars to design the outfits for the brief moments on the red carpet.

But with social media now so ascendant in China, there are new shop windows for the stars, including airport terminals, where swarms of paparazzi are on hand to record the clothing choices of the country’s jetsetters.

Chinese actress Yang Mi has become known as the queen of airport fashion, turning the terminals into a personal runway as millions of fans keep track of her outfits.

Yang is so popular that fashion brands say her clothes sell out almost as soon as they are spotted on social media. Designers are paying her Rmb200,000 ($31,532) a time to turn up at departure lounges in their outfits.

“What’s so attractive about Yang Mi is that not only is she beautiful, she is also not very tall, which means that the average woman finds her more relatable and accessible,” one fashion blogger told Sohu, a portal.

Her popularity is also a function of the roles she has played on screen. Yang’s latest series The Negotiator is a spin-off of the 2016 favourite The Translator (see WiC330) and it has dominated ratings since its premiere on Hunan Satellite TV in mid-February.

The show tells the story of a handsome but arrogant son of a billionaire (played by Huang Zitao) who unexpectedly falls in love with the hardworking and successful negotiator (Yang). The series has already surpassed 10 billion views on online streaming sites LeTV and Mango TV, (the online platform of Hunan Satellite TV), although as we have pointed out, the viewing stats on streaming sites have to be treated with a degree of caution as they can be padded by agencies paid to inflate them (see WiC377).

Despite the viewer numbers, the series has its detractors. On Douban, the TV series and film review site, it scores a dismal rating of only 3.3 out of 10. Instead of highlighting her profession, audiences say the story is less about a career woman and more about her romantic affairs. Nevertheless, Yang’s fans have no problem looking beyond the flaws: “Yang’s character on the show is not the stereotypical and catty professional woman but also feminine and thoughtful,” one netizen gushed. “Both she and her character are such an inspiration for women today!”

In real life Yang has leveraged her stardom into a thriving commercial career that goes beyond airport fashion. She has built a successful talent agency that represents rising stars like Dilraba Dilmurat and Zhang Binbin. Her production studio Jiaxing Media saw its valuation surge almost 200 times to Rmb5 billion after it listed on the New Third Board in early 2017. Yang was soon dubbed “the Goddess of the New Third Board” (see WiC358).

So when news surfaced that The Negotiator had ‘only’ garnered 10 billion views compared with last year’s Eternal Love, which accumulated over 30 billion views, there was talk that Yang’s golden touch might be fading.

“Since Eternal Love, Jiaxing has failed to deliver any new series that is particularly exciting. Even though The Negotiator has consistently dominated ratings, it is nowhere close to the furore surrounding the former when it was released,” declared Entertainment CEO, an industry blog.

Perhaps that explains why some of Jiaxing’s investors have been offloading their shares too. Back in May, the secretary of the board Li Juan cashed out her stake, taking Rmb325 million with her. In December one of the largest shareholders – Oriental Pearl Group – sold 14.25% of its holding in the production company to its subsidiary Shanghai SMG Pictures for Rmb641.5 million, which valued the company at Rmb4.5 billion – signalling a 10% decline in its market worth.

“While the talent agency and TV series production are undoubtedly the two largest revenue streams for Jiaxing, being overly reliant on a few artists and having the first series of the year – The Negotiator – not performing up to expectation is putting the studio under a lot of pressure,” says Entertainment Unicorn.

Jiaxing’s next feature The Flame’s Daughter looks to be failing to generate much enthusiasm too. The historical drama was originally scheduled to launch in February on Dragon Satellite TV. However, the network dropped the series at the last minute. Without its backing, the series, which stars Jiaxing’s second- biggest name Dilraba Dilmurat, seems destined to only air on online streaming site Youku.

Critics reckon that network bosses have lost confidence in Dilraba’s star power. Her last show The King’s Woman (2017) was a ratings flop. The timing was also unfortunate. Since the beginning of last year, historical drama has fallen out of favour with entertainment regulators and networks have gravitated toward dramas that are set in more modern times or serve as biopics of real figures. The country’s censors have also stepped up their control over the genre, which has led to delays in the release of actress Zhou Xun’s Ruyi Royal Love in the Palace and Fan Bingbing’s The Legend of Ba Qing.

With Jiaxing scheduled to release five more series this year, will Yang be able to reverse the more negative trend? “Behind the glorious façade, Jiaxing Media, like all the media firms that leverage on celebrities’ star power for capital, must contend with a road that is bumpy and dangerous. It needs to quickly release something that is explosive enough to justify its lofty valuation,” Entertainment Unicorn concludes.


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