Nanpai Sanshu, author of the famous Tomb Notes, appears as a guest star in Tencent’s Darker II online series. Nanpai’s first on-screen appearance helped pull the attention of many readers to the show.
The TV series Separate features a guest appearance by the members of TF Boys, a popular boy band.The shows are part of a growing trend that features Chinese celebrities as guests to win new eyeballs. But what’s in it for the guests?
Chinese series began experimenting with guest appearances in 1994. When the sitcom I Love My Family ran into financial trouble, director Ying Da decided to invite his friends to appear and make a few roles.
But unlike guest stars of the past, who were expected to work like regular actors, modern TV series seem to be banking on a hackneyed celebrity effect.
In 2013’s Longmen Express, actor Li Chen appeared for only several minutes and per- ished with hardly a line uttered.
It’s long been assumed that guest stars offer a boost to ratings, but Peng Fuli, the general manager of Vlinkage, a Chinese data analysis company, said guest stars offer a limited boost unless they play a significant role in the story.
Peng said guest stars only boost the expo- sure of a series or film by generating discus- sion before it airs. Producers sometimes rely on guest stars to drive up the sale price of a film that relies on too much new talent.
Actress Yang Mi promoted many of the young actors and actresses in her own com- pany by pairing them with famous celebri- ties in V Love, her 2014 online series.
Jia Nailiang and Li Xiaolu, a famous celebrity couple in China, invited many friends as guest stars on the TV series Male Doctors in the Obstetrical Department in 2014. But the guest actors did not receive any compensation for their work; Jia said he would not pay friends.
Bai Yicong, the producer of Darker II, said the guest actors would be given red envelopes as thanks.
But insiders said many of the top-tier actors and actresses charge millions of yuan for their several days of acting. Some are known to charge more than 10 million yuan to play a main character.
At such costs, it’s hard to say whether guest stars bring tangible benefits to a TV series or movie. Those who choose to appear risk being blamed for being a gimmick in a below-average series or film.