Winnie the Pooh horror flick pulled from Hong Kong cinemas

The British horror film “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey” will not be released in Hong Kong and Macau, its distributor announced on Tuesday, just days before the film’s scheduled release.

Its withdrawal highlights a growing culture of self-censorship in Hong Kong as Beijing tightens its grip on artistic freedoms in the finance hub. Critics say the film industry has been forced to fall in line.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been satirised for looking like the children’s book character Winnie the Pooh since pictures published in 2013 showed Xi alongside slender former US president Barack Obama.

Distributor VII Pillars Entertainment expressed “great regret” at the cancellation but did not specify a reason in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration said it had issued a certificate of approval for “Blood and Honey”, meaning the film had not been officially censored.

The office said it would not comment on “commercial decisions” made by cinemas regarding film screenings.

The organiser of an advance screening of “Blood and Honey” on Monday called off the event, citing unspecified technical reasons.

The indie flick, which according to its creators depicts a “brutal rampage” by Pooh and his sidekick Piglet, has garnered widespread interest online despite being panned by critics.

AA Milne’s loveable but slow-witted bear with a weakness for honey has been adopted as an anti-Xi protest symbol in recent years even beyond Chinese borders.

In response, China has continued to scrub the meme from the internet accessible inside its borders. Beijing rejected the release of the Disney film “Christopher Robin”, in which Pooh featured, in 2018.

Hong Kong once had no lack of films critical of Communist Party-led China, with film directors and distributors enjoying creative freedoms unheard of on the mainland.

But Beijing imposed a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong after massive and often violent pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Hong Kong’s legislature amended film censorship rules in 2021 so that works could be banned on national security grounds.

Screening of unauthorised films can be punished by a fine of HK$1 million ($127,000) and up to three years in jail. — Agence France-Presse

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