MUMBAI – “No Man Land,” a controversial Chinese film noir by top director Ning Hao, is to get a theatrical release in December, more than three years after it was banned.

The road movie, also known as “No Man’s Land” is to be released on Dec. 3 by state-owned distributor China Film Group, it has emerged.

The film is set in the always sensitive Xinjiang Province and involves a lawyer travelling into the Gobi desert, encountering people as dangerous as the terrain he is navigating. Understood to have a high body count, the film has been described as “nihilistic” by some of the few sources who have seen the picture. It stars Huang Bo and Xu Zheng.

“No Man Land” was completed in Spring 2010 and was tipped for a place in Cannes, but a release was barred from release by the Film Bureau, part of regulator the State Administration for Radio Film and Television.

An official explanation for the reversal of the ban not yet emerged.

Hong Kong’s Emperor Motion Picture confirmed to Variety that it had been told of the release plans for China and that it can now expect to go ahead with releases in certain other Asian territories to which it owns rights under its original deal with CFG.

Fortissimo Films, which was previously announced as the picture’s international sales agent in other territories, says it is seeking clarification.

Some Chinese news reports specifically identify Zhao Baohua, a member of SARFT’s film review board, as being the catalyst behind the ban. He is reported as describing the film as “trash,” “depraved,” “gratuitous” and “out of touch with reality.” Zhao is said to have criticized Ning as having “forgotten his social responsibility as an artist.”

In the 1990s and early 2000s many Chinese directors worked underground or overseas if they were dealing with controversial material or were banned from working in China. Today, with Chinese film enjoying a box office boom and authorities talking a slightly more open position, few, if any, work underground.

Ning, who previously directed festival favorite “Mongolian Ping Pong” and commercially successful black comedies “Crazy Stone” and “Crazy Racer,” escaped being banned from film-making, a penalty suffered by previous directors who overstepped the line. But the film was shelved and Ning, who has remained silent on the subject of “No Man Land” has since gone on to direct “Guns And Roses.”