'Winnie the Pooh' horror film cancelled in Hong Kong

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Screening of "Winnie the Pooh" horror film cancelled in Hong Kong
A parade participant in a Winnie the Pooh costume waves a Chinese flag before the Lunar New Year parade celebrating the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York, U.S., February 12, 2023. REUTERS/Bing Guan

HONG KONG, March 21 (Reuters) - The screening of "Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey", a British slasher film due to be released in Hong Kong this week, has been cancelled after cinemas in the city declined to show it, its distributor said on Tuesday.

VII Pillars Entertainment said it didn't know the reason for the cancellation; the movie had been scheduled to open March 23 in 32 cinemas in the city.

"We are pulling our hair of course, very disappointed. It's just unbelievable that cinemas cancel the exhibition after all arrangements were made," said VII Pillars spokesperson Ray Fong.

Chinese censors have previously targeted the film’s main character, created by English author A.A. Milne, over memes that compare the bumbling bear to President Xi Jinping.

The comparisons began in 2013 when Xi visited the United States and met his then-counterpart Barack Obama, and some online commentators seized on their likeness to Pooh and Tigger.

Some people have used the image of Pooh to signal dissent.

The Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) told Reuters that it had issued a certificate of approval to the applicant.

"The arrangements of cinemas in Hong Kong on the screening of individual films with certificates of approval in their premises are the commercial decisions of the cinemas concerned, and OFNAA would not comment on such arrangements," a spokesperson said.

The cinemas involved did not respond to requests for comment.

VII Pillars said the film was done with a tiny budget and "sold to nearly 200 territories in just 6 months. An astounding achievement within such a short period".

Moviematic, which had organised a screening of the film for Tuesday evening, reported the cancellation on its social media page citing technical reasons.

Director Rhys Frake-Waterfield told Reuters that "something mysterious" had happened.

"The cinemas agreed to show it, then all independently come to the same decision overnight. It won't be a coincidence," Frake-Waterfield said.

"They claim technical reasons, but there is no technical reason," he said. "The film has showed in over 4,000 cinema screens worldwide. These 30+ screens in Hong Kong are the only ones with such issues."

Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 cracking down on dissent after the city was rocked by anti-government, pro-democracy protests a year earlier.

A new censorship law in the former British colony came into effect in 2021 that bars films that "endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite activities that might endanger national security".

Two films were dropped from Hong Kong's international film festival last year after failing to get approval from authorities.

The cancellation comes as Hong Kong hosts the Art Basel contemporary art fair, with authorities eager to promote the city as a vibrant cultural hub.

Reporting by Jessie Pang and Farah Master; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean, Nick Macfie and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Jessie Pang joined Reuters in 2019 after an internship. She covers Hong Kong with a focus on politics and general news.

Thomson Reuters

Farah Master is a Senior Correspondent at Reuters where she focuses on health, demographics and the environment in China. She has worked for Reuters in London, Beijing and Shanghai before moving to Hong Kong in 2013. With a background spanning reporting in markets, companies, sports, political and general news, and economics, she was also part of a team named as a Pulitzer finalist in 2020 for investigative reports on the revolt of Hong Kong. Farah speaks English, Mandarin and Spanish. She has a Masters in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. Contact: +85296318262