HONG KONG - The screening of "Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey", a British slasher film due to be released in Hong Kong this week, has been cancelled, its distributor said on Tuesday without giving a reason.
VII Pillars Entertainment said on its Facebook page that it was with "great regret" that the scheduled release of the movie on March 23 had been cancelled. It did not give details.
Chinese censors have in the past targeted the film’s main character, originally created by English author A.A. Milne, due to memes that compare the bumbling bear to President Xi Jinping.
The comparisons began in 2013 when Xi visited the United States and met his then counterpart Barack Obama and some online commentators seized on their likeness to Pooh and Tigger.
Some people have used the image of Pooh to signal dissent.
The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) told Reuters that it had issued a certificate of approval to the applicant.
"The arrangements of cinemas in Hong Kong on the screening of individual films with certificates of approval in their premises are the commercial decisions of the cinemas concerned, and OFNAA would not comment on such arrangements," a spokesperson said.
A ticket-booking link on its Facebook page brought up a message saying ticketing was temporarily unavailable.
Moviematic, which had organised a screening of the film for Tuesday evening, reported the cancellation on its social media page earlier in the day citing technical reasons.
Director Rhys Frake-Waterfield told Reuters that "something mysterious" had happened.
"The cinemas agreed to show it, then all independently come to the same decision overnight. It won't be a coincidence," Frake-Waterfield said.
"They claim technical reasons but there is no technical reason. The film has showed in over 4,000 cinema screens worldwide. These 30+ screens in Hong Kong are the only ones with such issues."
Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 cracking down on dissent after the city was rocked by anti-government, pro-democracy protests a year earlier.
A new censorship law in the former British colony came into effect in 2021 which bars films that "endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that might endanger national security".
Two films were dropped from Hong Kong's international film festival last year after failing to get approval from authorities.
The cancellation comes as Hong Kong hosts the Art Basel contemporary art fair with authorities keen to promote the city as a vibrant cultural hub.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Farah Master; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean and Nick Macfie)