Cinemas across the country Thursday abruptly cancelled the screening of Quentin Tarantino's award-winning film Django Unchained, citing unexplained "technical reasons." But the puzzled public attributed the sudden suspension to a nude scene explicitly showing genitals.
Thursday was the debut screening of the film in China. On Thursday morning, a Web user named "Xueyidao" said on his Sina Weibo that a cinema in Beijing stopped showing the film just one minute after it began, and he was told by cinema staff that the country's top film watchdog made a call to delay the screening.
A Global Times reporter Thursday went to Wanda Cinema and Palace Cinema in eastern Beijing, and confirmed that the screening of Django Unchained had been cancelled, with no further information available about when it would be shown.
Yan Yu, vice-general manager of the China Film Stellar Theater Chain, told the Global Times that they had received an urgent notification Thursday morning from the two domestic distributors of the movie, the China Film Group Corporation and Huaxia Film Distribution, saying that the film was temporarily suspended from screening around the country due to "technical reasons," but gave no further details.
The State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television and China Film Group Corporation could not be reached Thursday.
Sony Pictures Releasing International, the film's international distributor, Thursday declined to comment when contacted by the Global Times.
Django Unchained was the first film by Tarantino to hit the screen in China. The director, who is famed for his stylized depictions of violence, has many followers in China, but due to his portrayals of violence, his works have never been publicly shown in the country, which has strict film censorship.
In China, films need to obtain approval from the film watchdog before they can hit the silver screen. Producers of movies are required to modify their works in accordance with the watchdog's guidelines if the content of their productions is deemed inappropriate.
Tarantino edited a special version of Django Unchained for China, cutting some nude scenes and weakening some violent content. The China version is two minutes shorter than the US version.
The suspension of the film screening came as a surprise, as distributors have been actively promoting it.
This is not the first time a film was pulled even though it had received approval for screening. But film insiders said such a decision had never before come so abruptly.
Tian Zaixing, manager of Beichen Fortune Center Cinema in Kunming, Yunnan Province, said in previous suspensions, cinemas had been told in advance to make adjustments.
Zhou Xing, a professor at Beijing Normal University and member of the country's film censorship board for domestic films, said there were precedents, in which the film watchdog asked the approved films to be re-edited due to public reactions and the distributors' hyping of sex or violent scenes.
Last September, director Lou Ye was asked to re-edit his film Mystery 41 days before the screening, even though the film had already obtained an approval. The film finally made it to the silver screen after a tough "fight."
The suspension of Django Unchained has triggered wide attention online, with most speculation attributing it to the nude scenes.
Zhou told the Global Times that this was a highly likely explanation.
He said that though there is not any specific guideline in assessing films, excessive coarse language, violence and sex scenes, particularly the exposure of genitals, are off limits.
"Sometimes, board members are more tolerant toward foreign movies if they deem such scenes are necessary for the story. However, they may have feared that this would trigger a relaxation of such content in domestic works," Zhou said.
Chen Tian and Wei Xi contributed to this story.