“I apologize to all the filmgoers who’d pre-bought tickets,” he said. “I apologize most of all to them. I’ve let them down.”
Neither Mr. Feng nor Huayi Brothers Media, the film’s main backer and distributor, have explained why the film’s release was abruptly canceled. Huayi Brothers declined to comment when called.
But Zhan Jiang, a retired professor of journalism and communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said he thought it was “definitely” done for political reasons, a view shared by critics and fans who pointed to the party congress starting in Beijing on Oct. 18.
“It’s difficult to say what’s problematic about the film, and there shouldn’t be any major problems as it had already passed censorship,” Mr. Zhan said. “But October is a special time, first because National Day is highly political, and even more important this year there’s the 19th Party Congress.”
About 2,300 delegates, most of them officials, will gather next month in the capital. Historically, the party is wary of promulgating anything that is critical, controversial or even downbeat ahead of the meeting.
Users of Weibo, a popular microblogging site, suggested that Mr. Feng had delayed the release as a publicity stunt, or in fear of a poor showing at the box office. But Mr. Feng said he had no choice.
“There are rumors, but no solid facts, about what happened,” Zhang Xianmin, a film critic in Beijing, said about the postponed release. “It’s possible that this was all about boosting the market for the film, but there could also be substantial censorship problems. Commercially, it doesn’t seem to make sense to postpone. Delaying distribution will certainly cost.”
Chinese cultural officials have not commented on the delay of the release.
Security at the congress, like other big events in China, will be tight, a measure meant to ensure that no protests, accidents, controversies or surprises sully the spectacle. Roads leading into Beijing are under tighter security, extra guards are manning buses in the city and officials and the police across China have been admonished to make sure nothing upsets the weeklong meeting.
“The only thing that is certain is that pulling this was not a performance directed by Feng Xiaogang,” one film enthusiast said on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media service.