The film was originally set to hit theaters in the Middle Kingdom on Oct. 25 after having received approval from Chinese censors. But an exhibitor source told Variety that the movie has been “temporarily put on hold” because the daughter of Bruce Lee has filed a complaint to China’s National Film Administration about the on-screen depiction of her late father, a hero to many Chinese. The film contains a scene in which Brad Pitt’s stuntman character challenges a ridiculously boastful young Lee to a fight and easily tosses him aside.
“As long as Quentin can make some cuts, it will be released as planned,” the source said.
A source with China’s Bona Film Group, which put substantial financial backing behind “Once Upon a Time,” also confirmed that the film had been temporarily pulled from release.
There has been no word from Chinese film officials, but the news is now making the rounds of social media in China. One fan outraged by the decision wrote: “Unbelievable. In the future I’ll never watch go watch movies in the theaters again. There’s absolutely nothing good to watch.”
Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” received a release in China in 2012. But its outing was halted in the first days of release, apparently due to an official rethink about its level of graphic violence. The film was heavily edited and re-released a month later, by which time pirated versions of the original were already widespread in China.
Bona Film Group’s deal with Sony Pictures on a limited slate of films gave it a share of equity ownership and the distribution rights to “Once Upon a Time” in China. Bona executives Yu Dong and Jeffrey Chan appear in the film’s opening credits as executive producers.
But because the film did not shoot in China and did not feature significant amounts of Chinese cast, it did not have full co-production status. That means the film was almost certainly brought into China on a flat-fee rather than revenue-sharing basis.