The massively hyped Chinese fantasy epic Asura has been pulled from cinemas after a disastrous opening weekend.

With a production budget reported at 750m yuan (?85m), Asura – with its complex special effects, big-name stars and huge crew – was hailed as China’s most expensive film ever made. However, its opening weekend takings totalled 49m yuan (?5.5m), and it was immediately withdrawn from cinemas.

The film's official Weibo account announced the news on Sunday, with producers offering “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”.

Named after the triple-headed demigods of Buddhist mythology, Asura stars 18-year-old heartthrob Wu Lei as a shepherd who turns out to be the reincarnation of one of the heads of a warrior king – also called Asura – aiming to invade heaven.

Initially the film appeared to have won the publicity battle, with reports saying Asura had generated around 390m mentions on Weibo.

However, audiences failed to respond, with a low 3.1 out of 10 rating on Chinese review site Douban.

A social media post claimed an aggressive attack by a “water army” – a paid team of ghostwriters, aiming to artificially inflate poor ratings – damaged the film’s chances.

This may not be the last of Asura, however. A representative of the film’s backers said that “this decision was made not only because of the bad box-office. We plan to make some changes to the film and release it again.”