China's Internet users were up in arms on Wednesday over news that authorities planned to limit showings of Avatar, the US blockbuster that has seen millions flock to cinemas across the nation.
"Avatar was late on the screens - how can they pull it ahead of time?" lamented one online user on Baidu.com, a popular web portal in China.
A news report posted on the website of the China Film Group, which distributes movies in the world's most populous country, indicated that the 2D version of the film was to be pulled.
Zhang Hongsen, deputy director of the China Film Bureau, which is responsible for movie censorship, said tickets for the 3D version of the film were selling like hot cakes, unlike the 2D version. "So it's normal that the 2D version is coming off screens. But the 3D and IMAX versions of Avatar will not budge," he was quoted as saying.
China only counts around 700 3D screens - just 15 percent of the nationwide total of 4,600. Online users, however, were angrily speculating that authorities were pulling some versions of the Hollywood blockbuster to make way for Confucius, a China-made patriotic film starring Chow Yun-fat due to come out on Friday.
"If the 2D version of Avatar doesn't stop and continues until the Chinese New Year (February 14), not one Chinese-made film will survive," one Baidu user said. "I had planned to go and see Confucius, but now, seeing this rubbish, shameless behind-the-scenes behaviour, I'm definitely not going to see it," another person wrote on web portal Sina.com.
Xinhua news agency reported earlier this month that Confucius would open with 2,500 prints - a national record. Zhou Baolin, head of marketing at the China Film Bureau, denied this was the case.
"There is no relation between Avatar coming off screens and Confucius coming out. Neither is there any relation with the film's content," he told AFP, suggesting the move was a simple business decision. "If there was a problem with (Avatar's) content, it would not have gone past the censors."
Some movie-goers have linked the film's portrayal of a tribe's fight against humans chasing them from their land on a far-off planet with forced land evictions in China, which have recently sparked violent clashes.
"Avatar is way too sensitive, it is against forced evictions," a Sina.com user said. The China News Service quoted Zhang as saying that Avatar had already raked in 500 million yuan (around 73 million dollars) in ticket sales.