Walt Disney will release a separate version of its Marvel comic-book movie Iron Man 3 on the mainland, an unexpected plot twist for Hollywood's most prominent collaboration yet in the country.
Disney won't seek official Chinese co-production status for Iron Man 3, according to an e-mailed statement.
The film, set to debut in the US on May 3, was partly filmed in China with partner DMG Entertainment.
A release date for the mainland version was not announced.
The decision, just over a month before Iron Man 3 is set to kick off the US summer movie season, hints at the challenges confronting Hollywood studios as they expand in China's government-controlled market, which surpassed Japan last year as the biggest box office outside the US.
The first two Iron Man movies grossed a total US$1.21 billion worldwide.
The studio won't comment beyond the statement about the reasons for the decision, differences between the two versions or when the Chinese movie will be released, Melissa Zukerman of Principal Communications Group, a spokeswoman for Marvel Studios, said.
DMG, which produced last year's Looper, is marketing and distributing the film on the mainland, according to the statement. Chinese actor Wang Xueqi will appear in both versions, and both include footage filmed in Beijing in December.
The Chinese version will feature actress Fan Bingbing and will include bonus footage for the Chinese audience, according to the statement.
China limits the number of foreign movies released into theaters each year to about 34. US studios have sought to bring more movies in by making co-productions, which don't count against the quota.
While the government censors all movies, co-productions must meet additional requirements.
For example, one-third of the major actors must be Chinese, according to Robert Cain, who writes the China Film Biz blog.
Co-productions also require a certain amount of Chinese cultural content, which could limit the film's appeal elsewhere, making co-production status less attractive to the studio, he wrote in a March 7 blog post.
Disney said in April last year it would co-produce Iron Man 3 with DMG, which would make an investment in the production, manage the Chinese co-production and jointly produce the film in China, the entertainment giant said.