2020-06-11 08:56:26

China’s film fraternity is mourning the sudden death of Huang Wei, a top executive at a domestic movie studio. He passed away Wednesday at the age of 52.

Huang, the vice president of Bona Film Group, died early Wednesday morning, his company said in a statement, without elaborating on the circumstances. Police in Beijing said they had ruled out murder as the cause of death.

Some media reports suggest that Huang killed himself. Sixth Tone was unable to independently verify the cause of death, but The Beijing News reported that Huang had fallen from a building in the capital’s Chaoyang District, citing sources familiar with the matter.

There has also been speculation that Huang’s death is connected to the economic downturn still affecting China’s entertainment industry, as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bona Film Group is one of China’s largest and most successful film companies, producing many of the country’s top-grossing movies. It co-produced last year’s Oscar-nominated blockbuster “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Huang’s death and the discussion surrounding it come at a time when film and television productions have been ground to a halt by the pandemic. Movie theaters, meanwhile, have been closed for months to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

According to China’s National Film Bureau, the pandemic could cost an estimated 30 billion yuan ($4.2 billion) in box office losses — or nearly half of the previous year’s total revenue.

Several Chinese movie studios have reported significant losses in recent months. Wanda Film, one of the country’s leading production and distribution companies, estimated its first-quarter losses to be between 550 million and 650 million yuan. Another studio, Huayi Brothers, said it had lost around 140 million yuan over the same three-month period, according to media reports citing both companies’ quarterly earnings reports.

Following Huang’s death, several industry insiders have come forward to say it’s time for authorities to consider resuming film production and opening movie theaters to the public.

“Beijing has downgraded its emergency response level from 2 to 3, and most of the businesses in the country have opened,” Jia Zhangke, a well-known film director, wrote on his Weibo microblog. “Some movie companies are losing a million yuan a day, and a million people in the industry need to survive.​​​​”

In a separate post, Jia referred to Huang’s death as “the industry’s sorrow.”

“My heart hurts — for Brother Huang, and for the industry,” another Chinese director, Lu Chuan, wrote on Weibo.

In early May, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, gave the green light to reopen some indoor and outdoor venues that had been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Uncertainty remains, however, for the domestic film industry as it continues to wait for official approval to resume operations.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A worker sterilizes a movie theater in Shenyang, Liaoning province, March 25, 2020. People Visual)