China dumps 'Da Vinci Code'
From Jonathan Schienberg
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(CNN) -- The government of China has decided to put a halt to the runaway success of "The DaVinci Code," pulling the high-grossing thriller from all of the country's movie theaters, according to the film's distributor, Sony Pictures.
Jeff Blake, who runs Sony's worldwide marketing and distribution division, said he received word late Wednesday from distributor China Films about the government's decision.
The controversial picture, based on the best selling fiction novel by Dan Brown, deals with sensitive issues about the story of Jesus and the Catholic Church and has raised the ire of Christian groups worldwide.
"We're really pleased that we had the opportunity to exhibit 'The DaVinci Code' for wide release in China and that it enjoyed three weeks of tremendous success," Blake told CNN.
"We're obviously disappointed by this decision ... We were not informed as to why the film was pulled," Blake added.
Maoming Chu, spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, said that he was not aware that the film had been banned in his country and had no comment from his government.
Though its run was stunted, "The DaVinci Code" enjoyed a remarkable run in China, grossing over $13 million. According to Blake, it was one of the top four grossing Hollywood films ever to be released in China. "Titanic" is the number one all time grossing Hollywood film ever to be featured in the country.
China allows, on average, fewer than 20 foreign films to be released in the country each year. Sony Pictures said "The DaVinci Code" release was the largest ever in the country and was highly uncommon in that Chinese authorities allowed the film to debut in such wide release on May 19, the same date the film opened worldwide.
Richard Malish, an associate in Allen & Overy LLP's China Group who has advised clients on media investments in China, said he believed that Beijing's concern was two-fold.
"The Chinese historically have been concerned with those sensitive foreign influences that fall under the banner of 'cultural pollution'," Malish said.
"This concern has, on occasion, extended to foreign religious practice. There has also been a recent tightening of controls on foreign media and domestic investment by foreign companies, which is driven largely by political concerns."
He added, "'The DaVinci Code' is not the first movie I would expect to pass the censors, and I think the real story is that that the movie made it to the screens at all."
Blake said that he did not expect Chinese authorities to give a reason for their decision.
"We'll wait and see what happens, but we don't expect the opportunity to appeal to the government of China," Blake said. "We've accepted the decision with disappointment."
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