Shaolin Soccer, the most popular local film of the year in Hong Kong, is in danger of being banished from China and its hugely popular actor-director Stephen Chow fined.

The threat follows a row about the film's content and release permits. Zhou Jiangdong, a department head within the powerful State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), said that as the film is a Hong Kong-Chinese co-production it needed to pass official review before public screening in either Hong Kong or the mainland.

The comedy about a country bumpkin whose superhuman kung fu helps him lead a team of monks to the top echelons of Chinese football, was released in Hong Kong on July 8 and has so far grossed $6.4m (HK$49.6m). It has also been selected to open next week's Sydney Asia Pacific Film Festival (see separate story).

Zhou was reported in the Changjing Daily as describing the film's title as "sacrilegious". "The conjoining of the words 'Shaolin' and 'soccer' is an insult to the Shaolin Temple and hurts the Buddhists. But Mr Chow's company has refused to change the title." Other Chinese reports have said that Chow, who is also one of the film's producers, could be fined up to 15 times the film's profit. But the SARFT has not said whether it will definitely take legal action.

Soccer's Honk Kong producer Star Overseas said it had read the reports, but was still hoping for a release in the Chinese mainland. "We have not received anything in writing from anyone in a position of authority in China," said Mandy Yip, creative officer at Star Overseas. "We are still working on getting the permits."

The film is sold internationally by Hong Kong-based Universe Films Distribution and has been bought by Miramax for North America.