Why The Order of Actors’ Names on Film Posters Matters

What is the reason behind the never-ending fan wars between Yang Zi’s and Wu Yifan’s fans for the first position on The Golden Hairpin”’s posters? Why does it matter whether Yang Yang’s or Dilireba’s name goes first on “You Are My Glory”’s posters? Let’s take a look at the implicit meaning behind the name order on posters.

Why name order matters

The order of actors’ names on film posters or other promotional materials is termed 番位 /fanwei/ in Chinese. And the first name appearing on the posters is 一番 /yifan/. The “yifan” concept was derived from Japanese word “ichiban” (number one) referring to the only protagonist in a typical Japanese film. If a co-starring actor had the same status as the “ichiban”, he/ she would be mentioned in a “special performance.” 

After this concept entered mainland China, the name order (fanwei) gradually became a status and billing order, and getting the first position (yifan) became a pursuit of many popular stars.

The poster of web drama “Story of Yanxi Palace”

Generally speaking, name order is contract-bound which is based on negotiations between film investors and actors. Regardless of protagonists or supporting roles, name order can be arranged according to the actors’ statuses in the industry and their salaries. 

Thus, name order implies an actor’s status and value in the industry as well as guarantees an actor’s responsibilities for and benefits from a project. The yifan (first position) actor plays the biggest role in the project. On the other way around, the success or failure of the project has the biggest impact on the yifan actor’s reputation. 

This practice is not exclusive to the Chinese entertainment industry as stars’ positions on posters have been an unending discussion in Hollywood as well.

The fanwei battles

There are numerous fanwei battles in TV dramas starring popular stars.

Two big liuliangs Wu Yifan and Yang Zi starred in “The Golden Hairpin,” but the discussions have always revolved around the only question: Who is the first name on the posters? 

The first poster of "The Golden Hairpin".
The first poster of “The Golden Hairpin”.

Dilireba’s fans went through bloody fan wars over name order with Huang Jingyu’s fans during the drama “Love Designer” period. And now the history repeats itself when the actress collaborates with Yang Yang in “You Are My Glory.”

The poster of "Love Designer".
The poster of “Love Designer“.

The most confusing thing is that Yang Yang’s fans and Zheng Shuang’s fans are still arguing about who the yifan is in their popular drama “Love O2O” despite the drama ended years ago. 

The fanwei battles in the movie industry are even fiercer.

In 2015, Wu Yifan and Li Yifeng both played supporting roles in the movie “Mr. Six.” However, since they’re both popular young stars, it caused the film crew a headache to work their name order out.

Li Yifeng’s name is on the left side (which is supposed to be read first in normal reading habit), but Wu Yifan’s name is a bit higher.
Li Yifeng’s name is on the left side (which is supposed to be read first in normal reading habit), but Wu Yifan’s name is higher.

In 2019, there were controversies that revolved around the movie “The Last Wish” as male lead Peng Yuchang’s studio issued a statement to terminate the contract with the film crew. It was stated that the Golden Horse award-nominated actor signed the contract as the yifan of the movie, but the name order of Peng and Wang Dalu was purposely made unclear during the promotion. 

The poster of "The Last Wish" movie (left photo) and the statement from Peng Yuchang's studio about his name order (right photo).
The poster of “The Last Wish” movie (left photo) and the statement from Peng Yuchang‘s studio about his name order (right photo).

It is certainly lacking if not mentioning one of the most legendary fanwei battles featuring two Dahuas Zhao Wei and Zhou Xun in the movie “Painted Skin: The Resurrection.” Two big actresses starring in a “double female leads” movie surely provoked a lot of controversies. Fans analyzed and quarreled over every single promotional material as they were purposely designed to blur out the name order. The fan wars continued for years that there were even rumors about the relationship between the two actresses was affected by the incident.  

Based on normal reading habits (left to right), Zhao Wei is the yifan. However, because the “Main actors” sentence starts from the right side, Zhou Xun’s name should be read first. The film crew must have spent a lot of effort to come up with this smart arrangement.

What matters more than fanwei

At the end of the day, fanwei is not something fans can simply fight online to win over. There are multiple criteria involved to determine fanwei in a project including matters fans have no say in such as contract terms. These fanwei wars are considered to only satisfy fans’ vanity, not to judge the true value of the actors.

The film director & screenwriter Yu Cheng
The film director & screenwriter Yu Cheng

Notorious screenwriter Yu Zheng once expressed his frustration at the current fanwei obsession in the entertainment industry. He condemned actors who paid too much attention to their positions on the posters but forgot to hone their own skills. His thoughts were agreed upon and supported by many C-netizens.

There is no denying that fanwei has a certain influence on an actor’s reputation, but it’s not the reason to overlook the core of an actor – the acting skills and the dedication to the profession.

An example of the fact the name order isn’t as important as the actors’ performance is the popular drama “Nothing But Thirty” (2020). The drama was indeed a great success, yet who got talked about the most was Tong Yao, the 2nd female lead instead of the 1st female lead Jiang Shuying. What was even more embarrassing was that Jiang was completely ignored in the Magnolia Awards, one of the three major Chinese drama awards, while Tong Yao was nominated for the “Best Actress” award and Mao Xiaotong, the 3rd female lead, was shortlisted for the “Best Supporting Actress” award for their roles in “Nothing But Thirty.”

The poster of “Nothing But Thirty”.

Your name can be at the n-th position in the poster, but your character and acting skills are impressive enough, you will still be recognized and remembered by the audience.

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