The theatrical release of low-budget slasher movie “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” in Hong Kong has been abruptly canceled just two days before its scheduled outing.

No explanation has been offered, but suspicions that the film may have crossed one of Hong Kong’s increasingly complicated political red lines are certain to be raised.

That is because the Winnie the Pooh character is unflatteringly perceived to have a physical resemblance to China’s president, Xi Jinping. Online search for Winnie the Pooh is heavily censored within mainland China and Winnie the Pooh products are not distributed. China did not permit the import and release of Disney’s 2018 Winnie the Pooh film “Christopher Robin.”

“Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” was produced by the U.K.’s Jagged Edge Productions and written, directed and produced by Rhys Frake-Waterfield. It draws on the beloved children’s characters created originally by A. A. Milne and turns them into creatures of bloody horror. Jagged Edge says the film “follows Pooh and Piglet as they go on a rampage after Christopher Robin abandons them for college.”

The film was to be distributed in Hong Kong by indie outfit VII Pillars and was scheduled for release on Thursday. On Tuesday evening the company announced that it was cancelling the release.

“It is with great regret to announce the scheduled release of ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey’ in Hong Kong and Macau on March 23 has been cancelled. We are sorry for the disappointment and inconvenience,” it wrote on Facebook.

“Hong Kong as of Friday had 30+ cinemas booked to show ‘Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey.’ They even did one screening. It went passed censorship,” said Frake-Waterfield in an email to Variety. “Then ‘suddenly’ over last few days, something has happened which has resulted in multiple cinema chains simultaneously having to remove the showings from their cinemas, which is nothing to do with the film’s quality.”

The reasoning that Waterfield describes could be either technical or political.

“Indeed, the exhibition of the film has been cancelled. Both Hong Kong and Macau, with some 32 screens or about,” said Ray Fong, executive at VII Pillars told Variety by emails.

When Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was promised the operation of its own laws, currency and institutions for 50 years after the end of British rule, until 2047. Developments over the past few years, however, have increasingly seen mainland Chinese sensibilities and policies adopted by the Hong Kong authorities.

The most far-reaching of these has been the National Security Law injected into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, in mid 2020. This specifies offenses of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign collusion as its four main pillars. Offenders risk life imprisonment.

Since the introduction of the NSL, there have been widespread changes to Hong Kong’s rules covering elections and education, the closure of several pro-democracy media and introduction of national security concerns into Hong Kong’s film censorship law.

“Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” had been approved by Hong Kong’s censors The Office of Film, Newspaper and Article Administration, some 19 days ago, on either March 2 or 3.

However, it was given a Category III rating, meaning that it can only be shown to cinemagoers aged 18 or over. The film “contains detailed depiction of cruelty, bloody violence, strong shocking content and coarse language,” the OFNAA said in remarks published on its website.

Category III ratings are rare, and most cinema operators try to avoid showing this category of films. Not only does the classification cut out the core teenage demographic, cinemas can be fined if they admit underage patrons. They therefore need staff to check spectators’ ID cards for age verification.

An OFNAA spokesman told Reuters: “The arrangements of cinemas in Hong Kong on the screening of individual films with certificates of approval in their premises are the commercial decisions of the cinemas concerned, and OFNAA would not comment on such arrangements.”

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