Thai court upholds ban on Shakespeare movie

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Asia / Pacific Roundabout

Thailand’s Administrative Court on August 11 rejected a petition filed by the producer and director of the feature film Shakespeare Must Die to lift a screening ban imposed by the country’s Film and Video Censorship Committee in 2012. When it issued its ban, the committee had reasoned the film contains political messages that might cause divisiveness among Thailand’s people.

Directed by Samanrat Kanjanavanich and produced by Manit Sriwanichpoom, Shakespeare Must Die is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Ironically, the film had been made with financial support from a fund under the Cultural Ministry's Office of Contemporary Art and Culture during a previous government. It was then banned under a subsequent government and never publicly screened in the country.

Producer Manit Sriwanichpoom told the press after the verdict, “I feel like we didn’t get justice,” and that he and his co-plaintiff plan to appeal the ruling.The Administrative Court explained in its ruling that although the film’s story is fictional, it contains scenes based on a photograph from a 1976 student uprising in Bangkok, as well as violent scenes from a later political upheaval initiated by so-called “red-shirt” demonstrators who had occupied an entire city district for several months in early 2010 before they were forcefully cleared out by the army. Both incidents caused deep political rifts in the Thai populace.

Shakespeare Must Die is the second movie that has been banned from commercial release in Thailand under the Film Act of 2008. The first one, Insects in the Backyard by director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, was slapped with a ban in 2010 because according to the committee it infringed on good public morals through its various graphic scenes of sexual intercourse and prostitution. Director Tanwarin then petitioned the Administrative Court order to have the ban revoked. The court in December 2015 ruled that while the film did in fact not contradict good morals, it still could only be screened if a three-second scene showing male genitalia were removed. Tanwarin reportedly never complied.

Uganda Thanks China for Helping Develop its Film Industry

Vincent Bagiire, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology of Uganda, on August 18 thanked China for helping the East African country develop its movie industry. The minister was particularly referring to China’s partial funding of Ugandan director’s Isaac Nabwana’s latest film Bruce U, whose premiere he attended on the outskirts of Kampala. Bruce U also received considerable technical assistance from China and features several Chinese actors.

"The relationship between China and Uganda has helped our country build a strong movie industry by using Chinese experts to teach our directors like Isaac Nabwana all the necessary things which helped him to create this movie," Bagiire said during the premiere.He added that the movie industry could positively contribute to a more informed society and help shape attitudes and develop the minds of local viewers. "We need to expedite the process to protect the huge potential that the industry presents to create employment, as well as economic and cultural growth," he said.

Produced by local studio Wakaliwood, Bruce U tells the story of Kiwa, a Ugandan boy and fervent kung-fu fan who by pure chance receives an invitation to China's Shaolin temple to be tutored in the ancient martial art there.

Twenty Two Becomes Unexpected Hit in China

A documentary about China’s “comfort women” has not only grabbed headlines but also the attention of the country’s film fans since its debut on August 14. The term “comfort women” describes females gang-pressed into providing sexual services for soldiers of the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan during the country’s occupation of much of Asia during World War II. While the fates of such women in countries like the Philippines, Indonesia and Korea have frequently been highlighted over the decades, few realize that the Japanese military also pursued the practice during their conquest of China, which already began in 1937. Twenty Two is named after the 22 Chinese comfort women whose stories are told in the film and who represent the estimated 200,000 girls and women who had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese in China alone.

The film has become an unexpected box-office hit, with revenues totaling about $20.8 million to date. Documentaries not usually being a mainstay of Chinese audiences, Twenty Two is also destined to become the country’s most successful theatrical documentary of all time. Many cinemas have been reported to have increased their screening times per day to accommodate the masses of viewers.

The film has also triggered a wave of sympathetic comments on local social media. "The meaning behind the film is worth a five-star review. It might be the last video recording of those women alive," said a contributor to Douban, China’s version of public film rating and reviewing website IMDb. "Thanks for letting me get closer to this group of women. After watching it, I felt so sorry for their past misfortune, but so happy for their peaceful days now," wrote another Douban poster. However, production of the movie began in 2014 and several of the women have since passed, with only 14 of them reportedly still being alive today.The latest of the former “comfort women,” Huang Youliang, only died on August 12, just two days before the premiere of Twenty Two.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thomas.schmid@filmjournal.com.