Public screenings of a slasher film that features Winnie the Pooh were scrapped abruptly in Hong Kong on Tuesday, sparking discussions over increasing censorship in the city. Film distributor VII Pillars Entertainment announced on Facebook that the release of Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey on Thursday had been canceled with "great regret" in Hong Kong and neighboring Macao. The distributor told the AP it was notified by cinemas that they could not show the film as scheduled, but it didn't know why. The cinema chains involved did not reply to a request for comment. The movie was initially set to be shown in about 30 cinemas in Hong Kong, VII Pillars wrote last week.
For many residents, the Winnie the Pooh character is a playful taunt of China's President Xi Jinping. Chinese censors in the past had briefly banned social media searches for the bear in the country. The meme began with an image of Xi and Barack Obama in 2013, the BBC notes. In 2018, the film Christopher Robin, also featuring Winnie the Pooh, was reportedly denied a release in China. The film being pulled in Hong Kong has prompted concern on social media over the territory’s shrinking freedoms. The Office for Film, Newspaper, and Article Administration said it had approved the film and arrangements by local cinemas to screen approved films "are the commercial decisions of the cinemas concerned."
Director Rhys Frake-Waterfield tells Reuters that "something mysterious" is behind the cancellations. "The cinemas agreed to show it, then all independently come to the same decision overnight. It won't be a coincidence," he says "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." (Read more Hong Kong stories.)