Chinese state-owneddistributors China Film and Huaxia Film Distribution are pulling The Da Vinci Code from all movietheatres across China starting June 9 in order to prepare for the upcoming "localfilm protection month".

The two companies sent an urgentnotice to all cinema proprietors yesterday (June 7) demanding them to pull thefilm in order to promote local productions and to commemorate the 85thanniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Cinemas were ordered toreturn the film prints immediately to the two companies which are China's only licensed distributors of imported films.

Beijing-based cinemaproprietors confirmed the decision and said there will be no screening from tomorrowof the film, even though it's still playing strongly after opening day-and-datewith the global release (May 19). The film broke the first weekend box officerecord in China, raking in $5m in its first three days, and has so fargrossed more than $11.25m (RMB90m).

"We expected the film wouldbreak the RMB100m threshold," said Yuan Xin, general manager of StellarInternational Cineplex.

It's understood there may be other reasons for pulling the film as Warner Bros' Poseidon, which opened on May 30, is still playing and Fox's Ice Age 2: The Meltdown opens tomorrow just ahead of the month-long blackout. Industry sources are speculating that the film might just be performing too well or that the authorities are bowing to pressure from Catholic groups.

The local film protectionmonth, introduced in 2002, is a measure to protect the box office of localfilms and usually takes place in summer. This year it runs from June 10 to July10 during which 10 local films will be released including two propaganda films Zero Kilometer and My Long March.

During this period, norevenue-sharing imported films - ie studio blockbusters - can be released. Butin previous years, imports already on release were allowed to continue playing.Da Vinci is the first film to bepulled while still performing well at the box office.

Before the film's premiere,two religious groups - the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and theBishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China - urged a nationwide boycott of the movie.But there were no attempts to stop the filmfrom being released.

It's understood that, oneweek after the film's release, the Chinese press was ordered not to give toomuch coverage of the film.

China Film declined to comment on its reasonsfor pulling the film. Sony's chief representative in China also declined to comment.