China is the largest international market for Hollywood, and the opening of the film yesterday had been widely anticipated because of reports it would only have minor cuts from government censors, despite Tarantino’s reputation for violence.
Some bloggers said the film had begun to roll when it was stopped and viewers were told to leave cinemas.
“We got the notice from our headquarters around 10am but it was too late to cancel two viewings,” said an official at one of several Shanghai cinemas contacted.
“We were only told that it was due to some technology problems and were told to cancel it. They didn’t tell us when the film would be shown again.”
The film stars Jamie Foxx as a slave turned bounty hunter who wreaks revenge on slave plantation owners as he tries to rescue his wife. It features Tarantino’s trademark style of extensive graphic and bloody violence, along with dark humour.
Domestic media quoted industry insiders as saying the cancellation was probably due to some nudity which may not have been edited out of the film.
However, the Chinese government rigorously censors all movies before they can be released. Scenes that contain nudity, politically sensitive issues, as well as extreme levels of violence, must be edited out.
Tian Zaixing, general manager of the Beichen Fortune Centre cinema in the southern city of Kunming, said he could not recall any other imported film being halted on the opening day.
“We were excited about the film yesterday,” he said. “We had high expectations for this film’s box office.” Mr Tian said he had hoped the movie would bring one-tenth of the monthly box office, or about 150,000 yuan (£15,000), to his six-screen cinema in April. Now, he must scramble to fill newly-opened slots for screening.
“This means we might not be able to meet our box office goal for the year,” he said.
The cited technical reason might only be a ruse, added Mr Tian, who was unable to provide an alternative explanation.
He dismissed speculation that a nude scene was the culprit.
“The censors have sharper eyes than we do,” Mr Tian said. “Shouldn’t they have already spotted it?”
He added the scene was not lewd but powerful in making the audience sympathetic toward one character.
Officials at the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), which is responsible for film censorship, could not be reached for comment.
“After watching it for about a minute, it stopped!” said blogger Xue Yi Dao. “Staff then came in and said SARFT had called to say it had to be delayed.
“Can someone tell me what’s happening?”
Bloggers speculated that a scene in which Foxx is strung from the rafters covered only by a thin cloth may have caught the attention of the authorities.
In 2004, the debut of a Chinese movie, Dahongmidian, was also suddenly cancelled on the day it was supposed to open because it contained “erotic” scenes which “made improper propaganda without approval,” according to media reports.
Filmmakers are eagerly turning their eye to the vast Chinese market, where several screens are being built every day, particularly after China eased its quota rules on US movies last year.
It did not lift its annual quota of 20 foreign films, but expanded it, permitting 14 premium format films such as Imax or 3D on top of the original 20.
The Chinese box office for US films grew by 36 per cent in 2012, making the country the largest international market and surpassing Japan, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual theatrical market statistics report in late March.