A Controversy Is Brewing in China Over a New Hollywood Film That Suggests the Country Was Behind a Rash of High-Profile Art Heists

The film will be directed by Jon M. Chu, who scored big with "Crazy Rich Asians."

Jon M. Chu, the planned film's director. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Jon M. Chu, the planned film's director. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

With the news that comedic actor Jimmy O. Yang will write the adaptation for Jon M. Chu’s forthcoming film The Great Chinese Art Heist comes the inevitable backlash from members of the Chinese community who object to the premise of the movie and the article on which it is based.

In 2018, GQ published on article by Alex W. Palmer detailing a recent rash of high-profile heists of Chinese antiquities from European museums.

It explored the possibility that the Chinese government was actually behind the thefts in an unorthodox effort to secure the restitution of artworks and artifacts taken by colonial powers, particularly from Beijing’s old Summer Palace, destroyed by French and British forces in 1860.

China’s interest in locating and recovering its lost art has been made clear by the state-run conglomerate China Poly Group. Palmer wrote of the business’s treasure-hunting delegation that visited international museums in search of stolen works in 2009.

Poly Group was less than pleased that article questioned whether the robberies were related to its research efforts.

“It is nonsense! Their suspicion is groundless,” Jiang Yingchun, the general manager of Poly Culture Group told the Global Times at the time of the original story’s publication.

He insisted that the company “will reserve the right to take legal action against GQ.”

“It’s disheartening that Hollywood decided to base the movie on an article that insinuated the Chinese government is behind the robberies,” Zhu Qirui, an entertainment commentator and former reporter in Beijing, told South China Morning Post this week. “I see the plan to make the movie as a Western ploy to discredit China on the international stage.”

But the planned Warner Bros. film stands to be a high-profile release, given the success of Chu’s blockbuster hit Crazy Rich Asians.


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