HONG KONG – China's official Catholic Church urged its followers to boycott "The Da Vinci Code" on Thursday, and the City Council in the Philippine capital banned the movie as viewers across Asia got a first glimpse of the film that suggests Jesus married and fathered a child.
The Indian censor board cleared the movie without any cuts, but required a disclaimer and insisted that it be shown to adults only. Meanwhile, a small group of protesters in Seoul, South Korea, marched outside theaters with signs that said "`The Da Vinci Code' is nothing more than fiction."
The Columbia Pictures release, based on the best-selling Dan Brown novel, wasn't expected to generate a wide backlash in Asia, where Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are the dominant faiths.
But many Christians have expressed outrage at the movie's theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had offspring, and that the Vatican and conservative Catholic group Opus Dei tried to cover it up.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which isn't governed by the Vatican, accused the film's makers of "violating religious ethics and morals and insulting the feelings of clergy and followers," the state-run Xinhua News Agency said. The church urged the country's more than 10 million faithful to avoid it.
However, China's officially atheistic communist government hasn't banned the movie. Normally strict censors cleared the film without any cuts.
But in the Philippines -- with Asia's biggest Christian population -- the Manila City Council passed a resolution banning the movie, effective Friday.
The movie "is undoubtedly offensive and contrary to established religious beliefs which cannot take precedence over the right of the persons involved in the film to freedom of expression," the resolution said.
Christian leaders in Singapore, South Korea and Thailand also tried to get the film censored or banned.
In mostly Hindu India, the Catholic Bishops Conference demanded that the movie display a "bold and lingering disclaimer" to state that it's fiction -- and got it.
The movie will carry a disclaimer at the beginning and end saying it's a work of fiction, Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi said.
Dasmunshi, who earlier this week put a temporary hold on the film's release, watched the movie Wednesday and found no problem with it.
In Hong Kong, where the local Catholic Church is organizing a forum that aims to "disinfect" the film, early viewers said they could distinguish fact from fiction.
"It felt like a novel," S.L. Poon, a non-Christian, said after walking out of a matinee.
Still, she said the movie made her contemplate the origins of Christianity.
"He was a great man, but did people make him out to be divine, to use him as a tool to change the world? This is something I wonder about," said Poon, who works in marketing.
Elsewhere, an Athens court ruled Thursday that Greek movie theaters can show "The Da Vinci Code," rejecting a lawsuit by Greek Orthodox groups demanding the film be banned for containing alleged blasphemy.
A judge agreed with the film distributor's defense that the film was not a documentary and therefore should not give offense, court officials said.
Bulgaria's Orthodox Church urged also urged a ban, but there was no immediate reaction from the government.
In Latin America, a traditional Roman Catholic stronghold, critics made their displeasure known but didn't launch a major protest, apparently fearing it would bring the movie more publicity.
Venezuela's bishops' conference announced in a statement issued earlier in the week that it won't urge followers to protest or boycott the movie but condemned it as "an attack on the fundamental beliefs and values of Christianity and the Catholic Church."
Mexican actress Yolanda Ventura took a dissident view on the matter of Jesus' chastity.
"It would be marvelous if he were able to experience it as a man and I wouldn't give him any more or less value for having had sex," she said.
At the Greater Union cinema in Sydney, Australia, tickets for all evening and weekend screenings were sold out for the next three weeks.
"We would normally expect to get three weeks out of a movie, but this is one we can play and get a good eight weeks out of," Chris Nicholson, the movie theater's business manager, said.