China's censors thwart premiere of Jiang Wen's Gone With The Bullets

Beijing (AFP) - The premiere of acclaimed Chinese director Jiang Wen's latest film, Gone With The Bullets, has been abruptly delayed due to last-minute demands by censors, its producer said Monday.

The film is the latest to have its debut scuttled by China's approval process, which critics deride as arbitrary and opaque.

Gone With The Bullets, which revolves around a beauty pageant in 1920s Shanghai and is a follow-up to Jiang's 2010 political satire Let The Bullets Fly, was set to premiere Monday night in Beijing.

But in a message posted early Monday on Tencent's WeChat social media app, the film's producers, Buliyehu Film and Culture Company, announced that the event had been hastily called off.

"We deeply regret to inform you that we must make some adjustments to the film due to new circumstances arising during the final stage of the censorship process, and the premiere will therefore be postponed," their message read.

"We will devote all our energy and thought to the final part and then report back to our dear fans," they added. "The meal is remembered long after the wait is forgotten." The film's Dec 18 release date remains unchanged, the producers said.

Jiang has wrestled with China's film censors in the past.

His 2000 black comedy, Devils On The Doorstep, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival but was banned in China, and Jiang was reportedly barred from directing films in the country for seven years.

It was unclear what aspects of Jiang's new film had drawn the censors' ire.

Authorities in China maintain a tight grip on political speech and frequently block or delay the release of films deemed to touch on sensitive issues or to portray the country in a negative light.

Occasionally, film-makers' simmering frustration with the strict controls boils over into public view.

In April, a major Chinese directors' association declined to name a best picture or best director at its annual awards ceremony, triggering debate over whether the act was intended as a protest against censorship.

The move by the China Film Directors' Guild Awards was interpreted by some as a protest against Beijing's decision last year to block the release of A Touch Of Sin, a film by renowned director Jia Zhangke which comments on violence and social inequality in China.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Jiang's Gone With The Bullets had already topped US$19.5 million (S$24.4 million) in advance ticket sales as of late November.