Mysterious 'disappearance' of actress throws Swisse vitamins into disarray

Beijing: The mystery disappearance of China's highest paid actress, Fan Bingbing, has embroiled Australian vitamin brand Swisse, which has suspended use of the star's image in its marketing.

A year ago Swisse had trumpeted its coup in signing Fan as its brand ambassador for Australia and China. But the celebrity endorsement is now turning into a cautionary tale of doing business in China.

Speculation is growing that Fan has been secretly arrested by Chinese authorities for tax evasion. Swisse told Fairfax Media that plans for its biggest marketing event of the year, the Chinese Singles Day online sale, are in disarray.

A co-star with Hugh Jackman in the movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, Fan also won multiple awards for her lead role in the 2016 Chinese film, I am not Madam Bovary.

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing in a Swisse ad.

Photo: Supplied

She was reportedly the highest paid actress in the world in 2014, and was listed by Time magazine as among the top 100 most influential people.

But earlier this year Fan was accused by a Chinese TV reporter of evading tax.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Fan is due to co-star in a Hollywood film, 355, with Penelope Cruz but has recently gone missing.

Variety magazine reported Fan had not been seen in public, nor touched her social media accounts, in weeks. Her name was also stripped out of publicity in China for the film Unbreakable Spirit, in which she co-stars with Bruce Willis, due to open next month.

An official Chinese business journal, Securities Daily, confirmed that Fan had been "placed under control" by authorities and would "accept the legal decision". But that online report, like Fan, also soon vanished.

A Swisse spokeswoman said: "We have suspended using her image alongside our brand. As such we are unsure on her involvement in our Singles Day activity. We are continuing to monitor the situation and hope that it is resolved in the near future."

The spokeswoman added that "with the investigations continuing we cannot comment further."

Fan BingBing poses for photographers during a photo call for the film '355' in Cannes in May.

Photo: AP

Fan's use of Australian vitamins has been credited with sparking a boom in sales to young Chinese women.

When Fan was seen on Chinese TV in 2014 with a tube of Blackmores vitamin cream in her handbag, sales of the Australian cream reportedly leapt from 3000 tubes a month to 500,000 a month.

Rival Swisse, which was taken over by a Chinese company in 2016, signed Fan as a brand ambassador in September 2017.

Lucy Turnbull with Chinese film star Fan Bingbing during a donation ceremony to the Heart Ali foundation in Beijing in 2016.

Photo: Andrew Mears

Swisse ranked as the top-selling imported product during Singles Day after Fan's appearance at a glitzy Shanghai shopping mall was live-streamed in China.

Swisse Managing Director Oliver Horn said last September: "Fan Bingbing is an internationally recognised star who combines intelligence, artistic talent and unique beauty with a positive attitude to life. She champions a healthy living philosophy and will be a wonderful wellness role model for Swisse.”

But state newspaper China Daily reported this week that Fan had ranked last, with a score of zero, in the latest China Film and Television Star Social Responsibility Report.

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