The Chinese director who dazzled the world in 2008 with his Beijing Olympics opening ceremony apologised on Sunday for violating the nation's family planning policy.
Zhang Yimou, 62, who also directed the blockbusters Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern and House of Flying Daggers, admitted in a video interview with Xinhua News Agency that he had "done wrong" and that the incident has harmed his reputation "tremendously".
"I have done wrong and won't blame anyone else. I will cooperate fully with family planning authorities in the city of Wuxi," Zhang told Xinhua.
The media interview was Zhang's first since online reports surfaced in May accusing him of having fathered at least seven children with multiple women and saying he faced a fine of 160 million yuan (S$33.5 million).
In November, the family planning authority in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, where Zhang's children's hukou - household registration - is located, said they were unable to find Zhang. Meanwhile, the authority faced growing public pressure over "fairness" in handling Zhang's case.
On Dec 1, in a statement published through his studio, Zhang acknowledged that he and his wife, Chen Ting, gave birth to two sons and a daughter, and he is willing to pay fines.
On Dec 10, Yao Hongwen, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission, promised that Zhang will receive no favouritism, adding that "nobody is entitled to give birth to more children than allowed".
Zhang, who has a daughter with his ex-wife, told Xinhua that he had three children with Chen because he followed his father's wish to have sons to continue the family bloodline.
Zhang's three children with Chen were born in 2001, 2004 and 2006 in Beijing, before the couple married in 2011. Chen told Xinhua that they fell in love in 1999 and were not willing to register as husband and wife for fear of media exposure.
Chen denied media reports that Zhang had at least seven children with multiple women, calling it a rumour "that has hurt the family".
The incident, coupled with Zhang's aversion of the media, stirred a heated discussion online. At the centre of the discussion was whether it is fair for wealthy citizens to buy their way out of the one-child policy.
A recent online survey by ynet.com found that about 70 per cent of people are unsatisfied with Zhang's apology, saying it is unfair that Zhang can buy privileges with money.
Zhou Haiwang, deputy director of the Institute of Population and Development under the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily that the family planning policy doesn't favour the rich because the fine is set based on personal income.
Xinhua cited lawyers representing the Wuxi authority and Zhang on Sunday as saying Zhang might need to pay a fine of at least 7 million yuan.
Zhou added that Zhang's high-profile case serves as a warning to the rest of the country.
"When people see the government gets tough on celebrities, they know they can't get away with it," he said.
On Saturday, the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, formally allowed couples in which either parent has no siblings to have two children, as the nation faces looming demographic challenges, including a rapidly growing elderly population, a shrinking labour force and male-female imbalance.