CBS Films’ 2019 romantic drama “Five Feet Apart” is set to release on March 12 in China, where it is sensibly being marketed as a romance for the COVID-19 era.

It is also selling its lead actor Haley Lu Richardson as thinner and ever so slightly taller than she is in real life. Chinese internet users pointed out Wednesday that Richardson has been noticeably photoshopped in the China promotional movie poster to be skinnier. Her fellow co-star Cole Sprouse escaped with just his backpack taken out and his skin lightened.

A similar doctoring of Richardson’s weight appears to have occurred in the poster for the Korea market, though the effect is slightly less pronounced.

“Do we have to do this even for foreign films?” asked one dismayed commenter on the taste-making Douban platform. Another wrote: “This is idiotic marketing. For this type of small-budget film, it’s not like people are going to buy more tickets because you photoshopped her thinner.”

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A comparison of Haley Lu Richardson in four different country’s posters for “Five Feet Apart.” She appears the same in the U.S. and Russia, but noticeably thinner in Korea and China. Wang Jinmei

The announcement of the China release for “Five Feet Apart” comes less than two weeks ahead from its debut, as Beijing appears to scramble to fill an otherwise rather empty screening calendar. Strong local titles have shied away from competing with holdover Chinese New Year blockbusters now reaching the tail end of their first month in theaters. Only a single other film, the local rom-com “Special Couple,” is set to premiere the same day as “Five Feet Apart.” A different China-specific poster from last year appears to indicate it was already previously eyeing a release in the world’s largest film market that ended up cancelled.

Directed by Justin Baldoni, better known for his acting role in the “Jane the Virgin” series, the film stars Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale) and Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) as teens who fall in love despite suffering from cystic fibrosis, which forces them to maintain six feet of distance from others.

The subject has become unexpectedly apropos for a time when social distancing has become the global norm, even though China has since more or less recovered from the pandemic, allowing its citizens to gather more or less as before.

The film’s trailer opens with dialogue that almost uncannily speak to the coronavirus moment: “Human touch. We need that touch from the one we love almost as much as we need air to breathe.” Its Chinese marketing is leaning heavily on the angle, with a tagline that reads “true love knows no ‘distance.’” Its Chinese poster includes the line: “You are the person that I long to embrace yet have no way of touching.”

The reportedly $7 million-budgeted film was not particularly well received by U.S. critics. It was distributed in North America by Lionsgate almost exactly two years before its China debut, where it grossed $45.7 million. Overseas, its strongest market was Germany, where it grossed $5.65 million. It made just $231,000 in Hong Kong and $875,000 in Taiwan the same year.

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Cole Sprouse loses his backpack and has his skin toned lighted for the “Five Feet Apart” China poster, as seen in an image posted publicly on Douban.

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A closer comparison of the Haley Lu Richardson in the China and U.S. posters posted publicly on Douban. Douban


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The current China poster "Five Feet Apart"
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The U.S. poster "Five Feet Apart"