It all seemed a little too good to be true, and perhaps in the end it was: Seconds into its first screenings in China, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" was abruptly pulled from cinemas on Thursday. It would have been the first time a Tarantino movie was given an officially sanctioned release in the country.
Movie theater operators in China are saying the film was pulled for "technical reasons."
"We got the notice from our headquarters around 10:00am this morning but it was too late to cancel two viewings," an official from a Shanghai theater told Reuters.
"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."
A spokesperson for Sony China told the Hollywood Reporter that they cannot currently comment on the film's China release. The film had been promoted heavily in Chinese cities during the weeks leading up to Thursday's planned opening.
Various cinemagoers who attended the abruptly suspended screenings wrote on Weibo -- China's version of Twitter -- that the film had just begun to roll when it was stopped and they were told to exit the theater. The Chinese press has quoted several unnamed industry insiders as saying the film was held up because of its brief nude scenes.
China's State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) pre-screens and censors all films that are show in the country's cinemas. Many China-watchers had hailed the approval of "Django" for Chinese exhibition as a small sign of increased tolerance in the country.
Scattered after-midnight screenings were held in major Chinese cities early Thursday morning, before SARFT issued the suspension order.
Tarantino is said to have made limited changes to the film to get State approval for the release, including muting the color of blood in its many violent sequences.
Scores of Weibo users and film bloggers in China were posting strongly-worded messages about the film's suspension Thursday afternoon.
The blogger behind Chinese webportal Dianyingpiaofang -- one of the most popular sites specializing in box office figures in the country -- wrote this afternoon: "It doesn't matter whether this is a 'technical problem', as this is going to become a joke. It doesn't matter whether they cut 'Django' or not, (officials) have already cut themselves."
Another Weibo user writing under the handle "Cfcu" lamented how "Django" is actually more politically tame -- in China -- than Hong Kong director Johnnie To's narco-thriller "Drug War," which opened in China last week and features scenes of a policeman snorting cocaine, righteous police detectives getting brutally killed, and the antagonist being given the death penalty by lethal injection. "This kind of non-uniform, lying-with-eyes-wide-open, approve-and-rescind censorship is undoubtedly making (the system) a big pile of dog s---," he wrote.