HONG KONG -- The U.S. film "Django Unchained" was abruptly pulled from theaters in China on Thursday, its opening day, a surprising move that underscored the fragility of Hollywood's evolving relationship with the Chinese movie industry.
No reason was given for the decision to suspend "Django Unchained," which was written and directed by Quentin Tarantino and won two Oscars in February. The move comes after some scenes were reported to have been edited to conform with the wishes of Chinese censors.
Workers at Beijing theaters said the film, which tells a bloody revenge story set in America's pre-Civil War South, had been pulled because of unspecified technical problems.
But Mr. Tarantino's representatives and financial backers in Los Angeles and New York City were still scrambling Thursday to learn what had gone wrong, and looking for a way to reopen their movie in what has become the world's second-largest film market, after the United States. U.S. film studios are seeking increased access to the vast new audience in China as a way to shore up their business, but have often been frustrated by Chinese laws, customs and tastes.
"We regret that 'Django Unchained' has been removed from theaters and are working with the Chinese authorities to determine whether the film can be rescheduled," Steve Elzer, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment, which released the film, said in a statement. Mr. Elzer declined to discuss possible reasons for the cancellation.
"Django Unchained" was to have made its debut after weeks of heavy promotion in China. News reports have said some of the film's graphic violence was edited to make it acceptable to state censors, including altering the color of fake blood in violent scenes and limiting how far the blood splattered. Such revisions are becoming increasingly common before U.S. films are shown in China, with U.S. filmmakers adhering to the demands of Chinese censors.
Sony's indication that "Django Unchained" might be rescheduled suggested some relatively narrow problem, rather than broad objections to the movie's celebration of rebellion. The film focuses on a slave named Django and a bounty hunter, who try to outsmart a particularly brutal slave owner.
Before the film's planned opening, the Chinese media quoted a Sony Pictures official who described the changes made to appease censors and suggested that Mr. Tarantino had played a role in the changes.
"What we call bloodshed and violence is just a means of serving the purpose of the film, and these slight adjustments will not affect the basic quality of the film -- such as tuning the blood to a darker color, or lowering the height of the splatter of blood," Zhang Miao, director of Sony Pictures' Chinese branch, told Southern Metropolis Daily. "Quentin knew how to adjust that, and it's necessary that he is the one to do it. You can give him suggestions, but it must be him."
Mr. Tarantino, whose films are known for their no-holds-barred depictions of violence, has not commented on reports that he toned the film down for Chinese censors. His agents at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment declined Thursday to discuss the film's withdrawal.
Chinese media and film blogs were filled with speculation that the movie was pulled because state censors had somehow missed a brief scene with nudity. But that explanation seemed unlikely given the careful vetting the film is said to have undergone before its approval for release.
"Django Unchained" is the first of Mr. Tarantino's famously violent movies to be cleared for distribution in Chinese theaters, though parts of his "Kill Bill" movies were filmed in Beijing.
Its sudden disappearance from theaters across the country prompted consternation even among some of the Chinese government's staunchest defenders. Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Global Times, a state-run newspaper known for its nationalistic posture, cast the abrupt suspension of the film as a "strange decision" made by government agencies full of nervous officials.
Openings of Chinese films are sometimes abruptly postponed because of last-minute wrangling between filmmakers and censors, and a film's run in the theaters can sometimes be cut short if authorities are worried about audience reaction. But it is extremely unusual for a high-profile foreign movie to be pulled on opening day after screenings have begun.