HONG KONG – Will Smith's new sci-fi thriller, "I Am Legend," is hitting movie theaters across Asia later this month — but not in China.
The delay in the film's approval comes amid a report that China has issued a temporary ban on American movies to boost the country's domestic film industry — a move the country's regulator has denied.
"We struggled very, very hard to try to get it to work out, but there are only a certain amount of foreign films that are allowed in," Smith told reporters in Hong Kong on Friday.
Smith said he had met with China Film Group's chairman, Han Sanping, and is working with him to secure a release date for "I Am Legend."
Smith said he has discussed other movie projects with Han and mentioned that he's exploring the idea of a remake of "The Karate Kid," possibly set in Hong Kong or Beijing.
"I am Legend" has already received a green light for release in Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.
Although Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, the territory has maintained a certain amount of autonomy, with its own financial, legal and regulatory systems.
Smith's comments came a day after Hollywood trade publication Variety reported that Chinese authorities have decided to ban American movies for three months to protect the local film industry.
But an executive at the import and export arm of state-run China Film Group on Thursday denied there was a ban, saying the company is still reviewing Hollywood movies for release in the country.
In the past, Chinese regulators have tried to maximize revenue for Chinese studios by banning foreign films from theaters during holidays and school vacations, when audiences are biggest.
"I Am Legend," based on the Richard Matheson novel by the same name, is set in New York where Smith is one of the lone survivors of a deadly global epidemic. It has been adapted for the big screen on two previous occasions — first as "The Last Man on Earth" in 1964 and then as "The Omega Man" in 1971.