HONG KONG - Is Fan Bingbing eyeing a bid to secure once again her previous lofty position in Chinese entertainment?
On Chinese social media platform Weibo, photographs of the actress - whose star dimmed after a tax evasion scandal last year - testing the waters have emerged, with the 37-year-old sporting a brand of eyewear.
A photograph also popped up on the Instagram account of her Thai fans' club, with the caption mentioning a new 2019 line of eyewear.
It is not clear which company she is endorsing but it has been reported previously that she herself owned an eyewear company.
The Weibo story, which speculated over whether the advertisement could mark her first step towards making a comeback in March, drew mixed reactions, with not all netizens giving Fan their support.
Fan, who topped Forbes' 2017 list of top earners in China with 300 million yuan (S$60 million), was fined 883 million yuan by the authorities last year over tax evasion.
Television presenter Cui Yongyuan, had revealed in May that the actress had received two contracts for her work in the movie Air Strike, with the one with a lower amount to be used for tax reporting.
In the uproar that followed, online talk had it that she had been arrested when she disappeared from public view for about four months.
After the fine was imposed, she broke her silence, posting on Weibo on Oct 3 that she had "lost self-discipline in the face of monetary benefit". "I sincerely apologise to society, to the friends who love and care for me, to the people, and to the country's tax bureau."
"Without the party and the country's great policies, without the people's loving care, there would be no Fan Bingbing," she wrote.
While she was photographed walking to a car outside Beijing airport on Oct 15, she has disappeared from the radar since.
Some netizens said she had been lucky to avoid a jail sentence but that the authorities could have imposed other unreported punishments, apart from the fine.
Hong Kong's Apple Daily reported that Fan was banned by the authorities from acting for three years - though this was never confirmed.
Rumours also swirled that she planned to marry actor Li Chen - who had backed her throughout her ordeal - and bow out of show business.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.