BEIJING--It is not at all that rare for censors to wreak havoc on films here in China--cutting, say, several scenes from “Bohemian Rhapsody” depicting Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality.

The latest movie to seemingly fall afoul of censorship, however, is a big-budget Chinese film of the sort that has long been a staple here: a patriotic drama of soldiers resisting the Japanese invasion in 1937.

The July 5 opening of “The Eight Hundred,” the first movie in China filmed entirely in Imax, has been abruptly canceled, according to a terse statement posted Tuesday on the film’s official account on Weibo, the Twitter-like social media site.

The delay--or, perhaps, worse--followed the movie’s last-minute withdrawal from the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival, where it was scheduled to premiere on June 15.

Although no explicit reason was given, the cancellation came amid a broadening political crackdown on cultural works that are not sufficiently in tune with the ideology of China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

It is the latest of a series of problems that have hobbled movies with politically sensitive themes. And it comes, probably not coincidentally, in a year with a series of politically sensitive anniversaries, foremost among them the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago this October.

Two Chinese films were belatedly withdrawn from the Berlin Film Festival in February: “One Second,” by director Zhang Yimou, who created the 1991 art-house classic “Raise the Red Lantern,” and “Better Days,” a drama about a bullied student, a young criminal and a mysterious murder.

The producers of “Better Days,” by Hong Kong director Derek Kwok-Cheung, announced the postponement of that film’s opening in China on Monday, Variety reported. “One Second,” set in a prison farm during the Cultural Revolution that convulsed the country during Mao Zedong’s rule, has not yet been rescheduled for release.

“I feel that nothing is allowed to be filmed today,” one post on Weibo read in reaction to the cancellation of “Better Days.” “It may not be passed even if it is filmed,” the post went on, referring the government approval required for each film, “and even if it is passed, it may not be released.”

It seems even the war against Japan, which lasted from 1937 until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, is not immune from the sensitivities of today’s political climate.

“The Eight Hundred,” which has been compared to “Dunkirk” in depicting the brutality of war and Chinese resolve in the face of defeat, is based on a historical event: the desperate, four-day defense of Sihang Warehouse during the Japanese invasion of Shanghai in October 1937.

A battalion with barely 400 soldiers--though their commander deliberately leaked disinformation that there were 800--held the building long enough to let the bulk of Chinese forces withdraw from the city.

The film, judging by its trailer, is blood-soaked and bleak, depicting what was, in the end, a Japanese victory. A clue to its problems with the censors, however, came only days before its scheduled premiere in Shanghai.

A nongovernmental group called the China Red Culture Research Association held a conference in Beijing on June 9 to discuss the state of Chinese films and singled out “The Eight Hundred” for blistering criticism.

According to a report published on another social media platform, WeChat, the participants complained that the film excessively glorified the Republic of China, then led by Chiang Kai-shek and his Kuomintang.

The participants included researchers, critics and a former propaganda official with the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army. The report, posted by a Communist training center in Shaanxi province, cited complaints about sequences showing the Republic of China’s flag, and said that the film used “historical debris to cover up the actual truth of history.” Chiang ultimately fled with his Kuomintang forces to the island of Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist armies.

In fact, the battalion’s actions have been lauded previously by the Communist government, which in 2015 turned the warehouse building, located on the Suzhou River in Shanghai’s center, into a memorial museum. The state television network, CCTV, lionized the battle when the museum opened.

Under Xi, it seems, political winds have since shifted.

This new flurry of censorship has been all the more chilling because the cancellations and withdrawals of films have come only days, or even hours, before long-scheduled and carefully planned premieres. That has roiled the peak summer season for movies in the world’s second-largest market.

“It cannot be done this way,” another prominent director, Jia Zhangke, wrote in a post on Weibo the night “The Eight Hundred” was pulled from the Shanghai film festival.

One of the film’s producers, Huayi Brothers Media Corp., among the country’s largest, had high expectations for the film after struggling recently. In the wake of its travails, shares in the company have fallen, dropping 8 percent by the end of trading on Wednesday on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

As part of a government reorganization last year, the department that oversees films was subsumed into the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party. The reorganization might also have contributed to more rigorous ideological scrutiny or simply created bureaucratic delays in approvals for films heading to international film festivals.

Another crime drama, “Summer of Changsha,” did appear at the Cannes Film Festival but apparently without the department’s required approval. The director, Zu Feng, and others from the creative team announced at the last minute that they would not themselves attend. They cited “technical reasons,” a euphemism widely understood here to refer to censorship.

Zu, a prominent actor making his directing debut, had already granted an interview to the festival’s organizers in advance of its screening, saying that China’s film industry was booming.

“Compared with the maturity of the film industry in Europe and America, we are still young and immature,” he said. “I hope it will get better and better.”

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Steven Lee Myers is a veteran diplomatic and national security correspondent, now based in the Beijing bureau. He is the author of “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin,” published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2015.; Claire Fu contributed research.

(June 26, 2019)