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China yanks 'Avatar' for homegrown film

Days before the peak movie-going Lunar New Year holiday, China swapped the blockbuster from 2D theaters for a film about Confucius. “Avatar” had raised uncomfortable parallels with the hot-button issue of exploitation by property developers.

Director James Cameron (c.) speaks while producer Jon Landau (r.) and Jim Gianopulos, chief executive of Fox Filmed Entertainment (l.) look on during a press conference for "Avatar" in Beijing, on Dec. 23, 2009.

Andy Wong/AP

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News that cinemas across China have been told to pull the 2D version of “Avatar," the second-highest grossing film of all time, has provoked a torrent of speculation as to why.

Nobody doubts that the authorities are behind the decision by the state-run movie distributor China Film Group, even though nobody from any government agency possibly involved was returning calls on Tuesday.

That didn’t stop bloggers from offering their own interpretations of the surprise move, which was first reported by a Hong Kong newspaper and later confirmed by 20th Century Fox, the film’s international distributor.

“Avatar” has grossed $76 million in ticket sales here since it opened two weeks ago – which makes it a record-breaking blockbuster in Chinese terms. Though the 3D version will continue to be on show on the country’s 3D screens, the 2D version will close nationwide on Jan 22.

It will be replaced on 1,628 screens by “Confucius,” a biopic of the ancient Chinese sage whose philosophy is finding increasing official favor in Beijing.

Hollywood tale hits close to home

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