The Story Behind Zhang Ziyi's Beach Photos

(yWeekend)  The American Gossip Website That Was First To Publish The Beach Photos Tells All.  January 15, 2009.

The 43-year-old French paparazzi photographer named Fred never expected that the series of photos of a female movie star and her boyfriend on a vacation beach could cause such a huge storm in China.  The reason: The female movie star was Zhang Ziyi.

A few days ago, yWeekend contacted the American gossip website and requested an interview.  Within thirty minutes, a reply came.

A female named Brandy Navarre replied in the email: It is possible to hold an interview, but preferably by email.

After more than a dozen emails were exchanged over the next few days, our reporter learned what happened.  Brandy Navarre is one of two partners at the X17 website.  Since the photographer who filmed Zhang Ziyi was French and knew no English, she helped our reporter by translating the questions into French and the answers back into English.

Although there were a few additional linguistic steps, the story of Zhang Ziyi's beach photos was still quite exciting.

When Zhang Ziyi and her fiancé Vivi Nevo stepped on the beautiful island of St. Barts, she might not have expected that she was entering a "high danger" zone filled with paparazzi.

"Fred did not go specifically after Zhang Ziyi, and he had not been trailing Vivi Nevo over a long period of time.  In reality, he came across them by accident.  The period between Christmas and New Year's Day is a hot vacation season for movie stars, many of whom go to St. Barts."  In this response to the yWeekend reporter, Navarre denied the "theory of trailing" offered by certain Chinese media.

According to Navarre, Fred is a 43-year-old man from the south of France.  He has been a paparazzi photographer for seven years.  He is a contract photographer for the X17 website.  Since St. Barts is French territory, it is easier in terms of visa and travel for Fred to go there than an American photographer.

So the Frenchman Fred brought along a Canon camera and a change of clothes and set off on his "star-seeking journey" to St. Barts.

"It cost a lot for Fred to get there.  Fred flew from the south of France to Paris and changed planes to get to St. Maarten island.  From there, he took a single-prop airplane to St. Barts.  The trip from St. Maarten to St. Barts took only 10 minutes, but the roundtrip ticket costs USD 1,000.  Previously, the cost of getting from the south of France to St. Maarten was only USD 1,500."  Navarre was still hurting over the costs.

Fred had to buy an airplane ticket if he wanted to get to St. Barts.  Once he got there, Fred tried to "control costs" on living expenses.  Before he set off, he had contacted a friend on the island and arranged to stay at the friend's home.  Otherwise, the hotel expenses at the five-star hotels for a few days would be quite high.

Once he arrived on the island, he rented a small car from the locals at USD 750 per week so that he can "patrol" the island.

Once Fred made the arrangements, the misfortunes of the movie stars who vacationed at St. Barts began.

Actually, on the same day that Fred took the photos of Zhang Ziyi, he also took photos of another heavyweight movie star -- the new "007" James Bond star Daniel Craig.  At the time, Craig was in his swimming trunks and sunbathing with his girlfriend on the beach.

For the week while he paid USD 750 to rent the car, this French paparazzi roamed around and those who were "unfortunate" to be filmed included the younger sister Donatella of Gianni Versace who was the top fashion design in the world and the American singer Beyonce.

The "photography works" of Fred are probably more appealing to western netizens.

But after this chance encounter on the afternoon of January 3, Fred became "hot" in China.

On that day, he encountered Zhang Ziyi.

"At the time, Fred did not imagine that these photos would become so sensational in China.  You should know that after we got the Zhang Ziyi photos, we did not sell a single one in the United States.  "Therefore, when the yWeekend reporter contacted X17 and asked for an interview, they were very excited."  The co-owner Brandy Navarre repeatedly thanked the reporter because "she did not expect that the Chinese netizens would show so much interest."

But at the time, it was an ordinary work day out of many days for Fred.

"He said that he woke up after 8am in the morning.  Since this was St. Barts, there was no need to wake up too early, because almost all the vacationing movie stars were cruising the night scenes and sleeping during the day.  These celebrities usually wake up around noon," Navarre said.

After getting out of bed, Fred put on a simple t-shirt, beach shorts and sandals.  This is referred to as the "one and only uniform on St. Barts."

"Just like what all Frenchmen do in the morning," Fred fixed himself a cup of hot coffee and ate a croissant.  Then he began to prepare for the day's "work."  He boasted that the Mark II 5D Canon camera that he brought with him that day is "the best, the latest and the most professional."  In addition, the camera was equipped with a 40/200 mm long-range lens.

Afterwards, the yWeekend reporter consulted a photojournalist and received a different opinion.  The other party said: "This is not a professional camera.  It is almost but not quite a professional camera.  But it has good capabilities, it can take panoramic shots and it can take high-resolution photos.  When a video clip is taken, the frame captures used for the Internet or newspaper are sufficiently clear to be printed.  The good thing about this camera is that it will not drop any details."

So Fred made his regular inspections.  He confirmed that the battery was fully charged.  Then he left.  At around 1pm, he roamed over to the south side of the island where the most popular beach on the island, Saline Beach, was located.

Looking through some shrubs, Fred suddenly spotted an oriental woman wearing a red bikini.

So this was how the sunbathing Zhang Ziyi and her fiancé Vivi Nevo got "snared."

According to Fred, "At that moment, he recognized Zhang Ziyi.  He had seen several movies in which she starred.  A couple of them were quite popular in Europe.  The most shocking thing was that Zhang Ziyi and her boyfriend were acting very 'sexy' on the beach."

When Zhang Ziyi began to do yoga exercises on the beach, Fred set up his camera in the bushes about 30 meters away and began to snap away.

Navarre explained the yWeekend reporter: "He was hiding behind the scrubs.  He hid very well.  At St. Barts, the trees and plants form the 'natural covers' that the paparazzi love.  The shrubs that are of the right height and have no barbs are the best for taking photos from behind."

After setting up the camera, Fred turned his mobile phone into the vibrate mode.  Supposedly, professional paparazzi must do that, since a ringing phone will "alert" the celebrities.

"At that moment, he was not going to take calls from anyone.  Fortunately, everything went well that afternoon and his mobile phone never rang," said Navarre.

The entire photography session lasted between 45 minutes to one hour.  Fred took more than 150 photos.  Afterwards, the photos that appeared in the United States and flowed to China were the finest 81 of the lot.  Fred described the scene that he saw: "This couple looked very much in love.  They were drawn to each other.  During the entire photography session, they were embracing and kissing.  It was very hot that day, and the sun was very intense.  They sunbathed for a while.  Nevo kept rolling his body back and forth.  Then he caressed Zhang Ziyi's back.  He caressed it again and again.  His hand then slid further and further down.  I could not believe what my eyes were seeing.  It was getting too hot.  Then they went into the ocean to swim.  My guess was that they got too 'hot' and they had to cool down by jumping into the ocean."

So Fred was not discovered throughout the entire process?

"Hmmm ... there was a moment when Zhang Ziyi's face was turned in his direction and her eyes glanced at the shrub behind which he was stationed.  She might have spotted Fred, but he was unsure.  Then Zhang Ziyi lied down with her back up again to continue sunbathing.  She did not get up and come in Fred's direction.  She did not change her demeanour and she continued to talk to her boyfriend."  Navarre said.

Having taken enough photos and noting that the 'deadline' was near, Fred stopped work.  He got back into this car, went back to the place where he was staying, downloaded the photos from his camera and sent them to the X17 website located in Beverly Hills, USA.  When the photos editor received the photos, they processed them, they added the text, they created the X17 watermarks and they posted the photos onto the website.  Everything went smoothly as usual.

Because Fred has not yet realized the significance of the Zhang Ziyi photos, he was actually more elated with filming Daniel "007" Craig and his girlfriend on the same day.

Concerning whether Zhang Ziyi realized that someone was filming her, the yWeekend reporter attempted to contact her agent Ji Lingling but had no success.

Previously, when the Beach Photos affair broke open, Ji Lingling made these public remarks to the media: "Ziyi and her fiancé were vacationing on the beach and enjoying their own world of two.  This is a part of normal life and should be a private matter.  I sympathize with all the celebrities whose privacy were violated.  They are unable to enjoy the normal lives of ordinary people, including vacationing."

Also Zhang Ziyi's assistant Ms. Ji said: "Zhang Ziyi was unaware at the time and when she saw the photos on the Internet after they became popular, she realized that she had been secretly filmed and she was very angry."

As for now, the storm over the Beach Photos has not died down yet.  Some Chinese lawyers are advising Zhang Ziyi to sue the paparazzi.

Is Fred worried about being sued in court and thus become more restrained in the future?

Navarre responded for him: "No, he is not worried at all.  These photos were taken on a French island, which has French laws.  Everything that he did during the photography session is 100% legal under French law."

Navarre then stated honestly: The paparazzi will continue to flourish because of the high profits.

She said: "With the exception of a few countries, the photos supplied by the paparazzis have a huge market around the world.  We sell the photos on our website to many countries and regions, from Europe to Croatia to Thailand to India to New Zealand.  Our biggest markets are the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.  This is highly profitable work.  Last year, X17 netted more than USD 10 million in profits."

At this time, the latest news about the Beach Photos is that an unidentified person has paid an exorbitant fee for exclusive rights to the photos over the next three months (January 9 to April 9).  No other media are allowed to use those photos.  According to the speculation within the Chinese media, the mysterious person is Zhang Ziyi's boyfriend Vivi Nevo, who is a Warner major shareholder.

The yWeekend reporter obtained confirmation from Navarre about this story which came from the Hong Kong media.  She said: "It's true.  I handled the deal.  The other party is very mysterious and unfamiliar, and never divulged the identity."

In view of everything, this may be the only way that the story of Zhang Ziyi's beach photos will end.