The first online television series directed by award-winning Chinese movie director Feng Xiaogang has been met with widespread criticism, mirroring the disdain that has greeted several disastrous forays onto the small screen by A-listers in the past few years. Broadcast by Chinese streaming giant iQiyi since July 11, the 30-part Crossroad Bistro is the first television drama Feng has directed since 1997’s Behind the Moon . His work on several critically acclaimed films catapulted him into the ranks of A-list Chinese directors. Set in Beijing, Crossroad Bistro is a coming-of-age story of five women whose friendship helps them through life’s ups and downs. The show comes on the heels of the hugely successful female-centric drama Nothing but Thirty (2020), which charts the lives of three successful 30-year-old women. As well as the five protagonists, played by Lyric Lan Yingying, Gina Jin Chen, Chuai Ni, Drolma Suijun and Wang Luodan, Crossroad Bistro features cameos by stars including Huang Bo and Zhu Yilong. Critics and viewers slammed the series for its flagrant displays of luxury living and for being out of touch with ordinary people’s lives. In the show, the 20-somethings live in luxurious houses, drive posh cars and have stellar careers. In one of the many scenes of extraordinary wealth, You Sansan (played by Wang) gives her driver a high-end washing machine when she hears his machine has broken down. She doesn’t even ask for its measurements. New food-waste law hard to stomach for China’s binge-eating internet stars In her eponymous entertainment blog, Gua Xia writes that she was discomfited by the show. “The first scene introducing the main protagonist Bao Xue shows she is living in a Beijing quadrangle courtyard,” she writes of the character played by Lan. “Although they are young and some of them are overseas returnees, all the characters in the show act like they are worldly sophisticates who are well versed in China’s wine-and-dine social culture. Maybe the director and scriptwriter have been living in elitist circles for too long. They no longer know how ordinary people live. “Art should originate from life. Feng should socialise with common people more before directing stories.” Feng is not the first A-lister to stumble in switching to the small screen. Actress Zhou Dongyu’s first period drama series , Ancient Love Poetry , screened on Tencent Video in June and also drew derision. Critics and viewers agreed that Zhou’s small stature and distinctive features did not lend themselves to her role as an ethereally beautiful goddess. Zhang Ziyi, of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame, was also criticised for her unconvincing acting in the series Monarch Industry, broadcast from January to March. Feng, 63, has been dogged by controversy in recent years. His most recent movie, Only Cloud Knows (2019), was a flop, earning only 156 million yuan (US$24.1 million) at the domestic box office. He also directed the film Cell Phone 2, which has yet to be released. Production began in 2018, but the film’s star Fan Bingbing wound up in hot water after whistle-blowing blogger Cui Yongyuan revealed she had signed two contracts for the work. According to one of the contracts, she was paid 10 million yuan for four days’ work on the film, while the second contract said she was paid five times that amount. Cui claimed that Fan submitted the contract with the lower value to tax authorities. The scandal forced Fan to stop working for a while and saw her exiled from show business. She has yet to re-emerge. The director has also faced financial troubles. In 2015, Chinese entertainment company Huayi Brothers acquired an interest in Feng’s Dongyang Meila Pictures for 1.05 billion yuan. Has China forgiven tax cheat Fan Bingbing? Under the acquisition agreement, Dongyang Meila had to achieve a net profit of at least 132 million yuan in 2018, with Feng responsible for any shortfall. However, the studio only made 65 million yuan and Feng was obliged to compensate Huayi Brothers. After the poor reception for Feng’s Crossroad Bistro , critics and viewers are waiting to see how other A-list movie directors’ work for TV will be received. Tencent Video’s Blossoms Shanghai, directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai , is expected on screens soon. Guan Hu, who directed hit movie The Eight Hundred , has signed a contract with Tencent Video to make five online Candle in the Tomb television series.