BEIJING — The 2D version of “Avatar” is being pulled from more than 1,600 screens in China to make way for “Confucius,” a patriotic, state-backed biopic of the philosopher, starring Hong Kong’s Chow Yun-fat, which will bow Thursday.
This is standard practice in China, where the government will clear the screens of foreign fare in the run-up to major holidays — in this case, Chinese New Year next month — to help boost local movies.
The James Cameron blockbuster will continue to screen in 3D on nearly 900 screens.
“Avatar,” distributed here by the China Film Group, opened on Jan. 4 after delays which denied it day-and-date release with the rest of the world. It took in nearly 550 million yuan ($80.6 million) in its first two weeks, making it the top grossing film ever in China.
Some reports have said that the movie was being pulled because of its theme, which deals with natives being forced to move from their homes — a big issue in China where land grabs by unscrupulous real estate developers, aided by corrupt officials, are a national scandal.
Others see an analogy with the Tibetan independence movement, or the Uighur independence movement in Xinjiang, where the indigenous people complain their culture is being overwhelmed by Han Chinese culture steered from Beijing.
However, both reasons seem unlikely as “Avatar” will continue to screen in 3D, which is proving the most popular format by far.
On Monday, in one of Beijing’s fast-growing multiplexes, there were lines to buy tickets for the 3D version of “Avatar” — in English with subtitles to boot — but none for the two regular cinemas showing the pic.
The Beijing Youth Daily quoted UME Intl. Cineplex assistant manager Liu Hui confirming the pullout while adding that it wouldn’t affect the cinema’s revenues.
“In UME, the 3D and Imax version make up 90% of our box-office income, so it won’t affect the majority of viewers,” she said.
By the end of last year, China had more than 4,700 screens, including nearly 800 3D screens, 1,800 digital screens and 22 Imax screens.
Chinese B.O. topped $880 million last year, a rise of over 40% on the previous year, and a record 450 films were made and screened on the Chinese mainland.