Quasi-ban subdues Korean director Kim Ki-duk


South Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta may have won—as the first South Korean film ever—a coveted Golden Lion award at last year’s Venice Film Festival (and top prizes at Cannes and Berlin, too), but this success obviously has not made the maverick filmmaker immune to the whims of his home country’s censorship authority, the Korea Media Rating Board. His latest movie Moebius was recently accorded a devastating “Restricted Screening” rating. While this does not ban a film outright, it nevertheless amounts to a quasi-ban, as traditionally no South Korean distributor or even standalone theatre would touch any movie with such a rating.

The rating was caused by the production’s extremely sensitive subject, as Moebius disturbingly portrays the destruction of a local family by incest. The ratings board defended its decision by describing the picture as “unethical, unsocial and harmful to young viewers.” While Kim initially stubbornly refused to remove the most controversial scenes, he eventually reconsidered and subjected his film to substantial cuts in order to secure a more favorable rating and thus be able to attract a distributor. “I feel sad [about the cuts], but it was an inevitable decision, because I cannot ignore the minds of [the] actors, actresses and [crew], all of whom were longing to see the release of my film in South Korea,” Kim said in a statement. The director has been frequently criticized in the past for his films, which primarily dwell on dark and violent stories inhabited by deranged, twisted characters.

Three Flicks Clean Up SIFF Awards

Award gala audiences were in for a surprise at the recent 16th Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF) when only three movies entered in the competition section shared all eight available Golden Goblet prizes. Russian crime drama The Major won the prize for Best Film, while its director Yury Bykov was honored with the Best Director award. Bykov also took home the trophy for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in recognition of the movie’s soundtrack, which he composed. Jury president Tom Hooper, the Oscar-winning British film and TV director (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables), said about the selection of The Major, “We were finding it hard to [choose] a film worthy of the prize of Best Picture. Then we saw The Major and everything changed.”

Hooper’s comment indirectly confirmed previous criticism that the roster of this year’s contenders for the SIFF awards was weak and uninspiring. Initially, only 12 productions had been entered into the competition. Another two movies, China-financed and Taiwan-shot drama The Stolen Years (directed by Barbara Wong) and Legenda No. 17 (directed by Nikolay Lebedev), a Russia-produced biopic on ice hockey legend Valeri Khalarmov, were hurriedly added literally only days before the awards gala. Swedish drama Reliance scooped the awards for Best Screenplay (Angus McLachlan) and Best Cinematography (Vachan Sharma and Paul Blomgren Dovan), while also receiving the Special Jury Prize. The remaining two awards for Best Actor and Best Actress respectively went to Hong Kong’s Nick Cheung and ten-year-old Malaysian Crystal Lee, who both starred in the Hong Kong-produced contemporary action drama Unbeatable.

Despite a somewhat lackluster main competition section, the 10th Asian New Talent Award competition was praised for honoring a trio of young female directors. The award for Best Film was presented to South Korean filmmaker Roh Deok for her debut, the romantic comedy Very Ordinary Couple, which was lauded by jury president Lu Chuan as “subtle, truthful and sensitive.” Meanwhile, Singapore’s Wong Chen Hsi received the Best Director award for her period drama Innocents. The Jury Prix Award, recognizing “pictures that explore the spirit of innovation”, was accepted by a very touched Liu Juan, the 28-year-old director of Chinese drama Singing When We Are Young, with jury member Gary Kurtz noting that the film impressed him due to its “courageous use of style and content.”

Unusual Screening for Thai Doc
A Thailand-produced documentary that celebrated its world premiere at this year’s Berlin IFF and received enthusiastic accolades finally managed at least limited domestic release after a bizarre tug-of-war with the country’s censors. Boundary, directed by Nontawat Numbenchapol, was initially banned on April 23 by a subcommittee of Thailand’s censorship body, the Film and Video Board, due to its allegedly unfavorable depiction of an ongoing border dispute between Thailand and its neighbor Cambodia over 11.4 square kilometers of land adjacent to a 12th-century hilltop Khmer temple. The subcommittee’s order was rescinded only two days later by the board itself and explained away as a “technical mistake.” However, the board also demanded that a minor but extremely sensitive reference to Thailand’s highly revered monarchy had to be removed.

But even after the ban was lifted, mainstream distributors were reluctant to pick up the picture for fear of possible further complications, prompting its director to embark on a rather unusual arrangement with Major Cineplex Group, one of the largest cinema chains in the country. Together with newfound distributor, print magazine Bioscope, Nontawat rented the theatre venues from the operator and also took care of ticket sales, promoting his movie on Facebook and other channels, a move that protected Major Cineplex from potential entanglements. Boundary at last had its domestic premiere at a Major Cineplex theatre in the northern city of Chiang Mai on July 27. It subsequently also screened in the cities of Khon Kaen (July 4-10) and Udon Thani (July 11-17) before finishing its run in the capital Bangkok from July 18 onwards.

For inquiries and feedback, contact Thomas Schmid at thaitom03@lo