Quentin Tarantino’s violent slave-revenge drama “Django Unchained” was yanked out of Chinese theaters on its opening day Thursday, with the importer blaming an unspecified technical problem.
The rare suspension order by China Film Group Corp. has already lead to suspicion that the Hollywood film could have run afoul of Chinese censors despite weeks of promotion in the country and editing changes from Tarantino himself. The China office of Sony Pictures, which released the film, refused to comment.
As previously reported, Tarantino reportedly cut some violent scenes and the film had been cleared by China’s rigorous censors, who generally remove violence, sex and politically edgy content. With such an exacting system, suspension on a film’s premiere date is unusual.
Tian Zaixing, general manager of the Beichen Fortune Center movie theater in the southern city of Kunming, said he could not recall any other imported film being halted on the opening day. The order from China Film Group came in a phone call around 10 a.m., he said.
“We were excited about the film yesterday,” he said. “We had had high expectations for this film’s box office.”
Tian said he had hoped the movie would bring about one-tenth of the monthly box office, or about 150,000 yuan ($24,000), to his six-screen theater in April. Now, he must scramble to fill newly opened slots for screening.
“This means we might not be able to meet our box-office goal for the year,” Tian said.
The cited technical reason might only be a ruse, said Tian, who was unable to provide an alternative explanation. He dismissed speculation that a nude scene was the offending culprit.
“The censors have sharper eyes than we do,” Tian said. “Shouldn’t they have already spotted it?” He added the scene was not lewd at all but powerful in making the audience sympathetic toward one character.
The film stars actors well known to the Chinese audience: Leonardo DiCaprio as a plantation owner and Jamie Foxx as a freed slave who trains to become a bounty hunter and demands his wife’s freedom. It made more than $160 million at the North American box office and has proved successful overseas as well.
China has risen to the second-biggest movie market with sales of $2.7 billion last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America.
A man who is on the official promotional team for the film but refused to give his name because of the perceived sensibility of the issue said there had been no prior warning about the suspension and that the film’s midnight premiere was unaffected.
Photographer Xue Yutao said he was about one minute into the movie at a Beijing theater Thursday morning when a couple of theater employees walked in and told the audience that the screening would be postponed. The announcer did not give a reason or say when the movie would be re-shown, Xue said.