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Asia Christian Leaders Denounce 'Da Vinci Code'

HONG KONG (AP) - Christian leaders across Asia denounced 'The Da Vinci Code,' fearful that the movie may spread misinformation about their religion, as groups planned boycotts ahead of its debut Wed
( [email protected] ) May 17, 2006 09:50 AM EDT

HONG KONG (AP) - Christian leaders across Asia denounced 'The Da Vinci Code,' fearful that the movie may spread misinformation about their religion, as groups planned boycotts and attempted to block or shorten screenings ahead of its debut Wednesday.

Christians in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand have protested or expressed concern about the film, premiering Wednesday at the Cannes Film Festival. Thai groups have persuaded censors to edit the movie, and India is putting the film's release on hold after a flurry of complaints.

One of the premises of the movie, adapted by Ron Howard from Dan Brown's worldwide best seller, is that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene and fathered children and that his descendants are still alive.

Christians in Asia are particularly worried about the movie because they believe it could threaten a religion that is already a minority in many countries.

"If Jesus Christ had a child and a wife, then Christianity would be destroyed," said Thongchai Pradabchananurat, of the Thailand Protestant Churches Coordinating Committee.

A coalition of Christian groups in Thailand, which is more than 90 percent Buddhist and less than 1 percent Christian, demanded that censors cut the last 15 minutes of the movie, which reveal that Jesus' lineage has survived to this day.

The country's censorship board preliminarily agreed to snip the last 10 minutes, then reversed its decision on Wednesday. A committee decided there would instead be a disclaimer at the beginning and end of the movie saying its content were fictional, something that distributor Sony Pictures Releasing International had offered to do.

"People can differentiate between what's fiction and what's not," said Rachot Dhiraputra, general manager for the distribution company.

In India, Joseph Dias, head of the Catholic Secular Forum, went on a hunger strike in downtown Bombay to protest the movie's planned release in that country.

After receiving more than 200 complaints, India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said he was going to see the movie for himself, which may delay its scheduled Friday release by a day or two.

Most of India's 1 billion population is Hindu but the country is also home to 18 million Roman Catholics.

The archbishop of the Philippines capital of Manila, Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales, has denounced both the movie and Dan Brown's novel as an attack on the divinity of Jesus Christ. But he stopped short of calling for a ban in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation, one of the rare Asian countries with a Christian majority.

Philippine movie censor Marissa Laguardia said was important to preserve free speech. She said opponents of the film can discourage friends from watching it, but that it "has to be shown."

"Otherwise we will be the only country that will not show this film. Thirty-six countries have already reviewed this film and they have not banned it. So are we just out of the Stone Age?" Laguardia said.

Authorities in Singapore and South Korea have also rejected calls to ban the film, saying audiences understand it is fictional.

The Christian Council of Korea, an umbrella group of 63 South Korean Protestant denominations, said it respected the ruling but would lead a boycott of the movie, which it said defiles the sanctity of Jesus Christ and distorts facts. South Korea has 13 million Protestants and 4.6 million Roman Catholics.

Malaysian Bishop Lim Cheng Ean said the strength of Christian faith will counter the movie. Nearly 60 percent of Malaysians are Muslim.

"If Christians know their own faith, they will be strong enough. We can leave it to their discretion as to whether they would rather watch the movie or not. That is their free choice," he said.

Australia's Anglican Church, however, isn't taking any chances. Anglican Sydney Media, which promotes the church's Sydney diocese, has set up a Web site and launched movie theater ads challenging theories in the "The Da Vinci Code."

One country where debate over the film was notably absent was China, which is ruled by an officially atheistic communist regime. Beijing doesn't recognize the Vatican, whose officials have been critical of the movie.

The film was cleared by the country's usually strict censors "without any problems," China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese media excitedly noted that the country's gala showing of the "The Da Vinci Code" on Wednesday would beat the official Cannes premier by an hour.

Li Chow, general manager in Beijing for the movie's China distributor, said the film would have the widest release yet for a foreign movie in China, surpassing "King Kong" last year.

"I think this is the film with the highest profile in China this year," Li said.

Playing on the opening night at the 59th Cannes festival caps a huge marketing blitz for the film. The movie is not competing for prizes at the glitzy two-week festival in southern France, which runs through May 28.

Tom Hanks and other stars of the movie arrived in Cannes from London on Tuesday aboard a train named "The Da Vinci Code," setting a world record for the longest nonstop international train journey.

Associated Press writers Alisa Tang in Bangkok, Thailand; Ramola Talwar Badam in Bombay, India; Oliver Teves in Manila, Philippines; and Angela Doland in Cannes, France; contributed to this report.

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