July 17 (UPI) -- A Chinese fantasy epic about mythological Buddhist characters has been pulled from theaters after a dismal performance at the Chinese box office, and online reviews that on average rated the film a 3.1 out of 10 may have contributed to the movie's flop.
The would-be blockbuster Asura, with a production budget of $112 million, is the most expensive Chinese film ever made.
But the online reviews are raising suspicions, and paid trolls may have been manipulating the review sites, the films' producers said, according to Hollywood Reporter.
"Such ghostwriters for hire are known in China as 'shuijun,' a pejorative term that literally means 'water army,' because companies pay them to 'flood' forums with fake reviews," the report states.
The evidence includes a large number of 1 out of 10 reviews posted to site Maoyan by "suspicious accounts," according to the report.
Producers said the film would be pulled from theaters after it earned only $7.3 million on opening weekend.
The producers also said they extend their "deepest apologies to viewers who did not get a chance to watch the film, as well as to all the Chinese and international participants who were involved in its production over the past six years," the South China Morning Post reported.
The film was a massive production, involving an international crew of 2,500 people.
Chinese Communist Party officials from Ningxia in northwest China even attended an opening ceremony in early July, according to People's Daily.
The film features Hong Kong stars Carina Lau Kar-ling and Tony Leung Ka-fai.