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[HanCinema Korea's Diary] A Flash of Fuzz: Approved for Mass Consumption

2012/01/28 | 1145 views |  | Permalink

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While watching David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" last week in Bucheon, there came a moment where a tiny portion of the frame was blurred out. This was only for literally about half a second but it struck me as particularly odd. The film has an age restriction of 18 in Korea and despite its other, and frankly more disturbing, images and suggestive themes, CVG chose to screen the film with this censored scene. Anyone who has watched Korean television can tell you that censorship, particularly the manipulation of apparently explicit images and scenes, is commonplace. But after experiencing this on the big screen it got me thinking about why this type of censorship exists and where the responsibly lies.

Graphic medical dramas are one example where dismembered corpses and autopsies are heavily censored on Korean television, resulting in some scenes being nothing more than a fussy blur of images. Higher powers have clearly deemed these types of images inappropriate or unsuitable for mass consumption. "Sparatus" is foreign television show that has its fair share of content blurred in Korea, again surprising because the show had the highest age restriction possible and was shown outside prime time viewing hours. How is it that a show can be given the appropriate age restriction but still contain such blatant attempts to protect or shield the viewer? If you were the conservative type, one would think that you would personally avoid show that contains overt sexual images. Or if you have a sensitive stomach then maybe medical dramas aren't for you. Personal preference is my point here and while I think the age restriction for "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" was appropriate, I was disturbed more by the fact that, despite the film's rating, the film still was edited and I was denied the full and uninterrupted experience intended by the director.

But clearly age restrictions in films aren't always observed. Not to long ago I was watching "My Way" in Seoul that has an age restriction in Korea of 15. In the row in front of me was a middle-aged woman with two children that could not have been more that 10 years old. I was shocked and almost angry with not only her but also CGV for allowing her to bring such young minds into the cinema. "My Way" is an epic war drama and it does contain some of the graphic images one can expect in a war film. Surely then as a responsible adult you would not want to subject such young minds to this bombardment of blood and violence? But where does the responsibility lie when considering the impact such images and themes will have on the viewer?

I believe that there are three powers that are involved in the moderation of content in film. Firstly, it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to produce content that is aligned with the messages/themes contained in the piece. Films that contain sex for sexes sake, for example, are quickly criticised and it is up to the directors and producers to avoid added sensationalist content. Second, the distributors and ratings boards must examine the content and attach the correct 'warnings' to any given feature. This can take the form of age restrictions and where the film can be screened. More art-house films will invariable end up in film festivals and independent screening houses, and with these one can expect less involvement from higher authorities. But mainstream films benefit from informing the viewer that the film they are about to watch contains a level of content that may or may not be to their liking or appropriate for their age. Lastly, it is the role of the individual, or parent in the case of younger children, to exercise personal control over the type of content they expose themselves to or allow others to experience. I felt that CGV deprived me of that right. I was familiar with the content of the film, having read the original book and stumbled through the Swedish version of the film, when I made the decision to watch it. I was well informed, and above the film's age restriction, but still I was subjected to their tampering. I felt cheated.

David Fincher's film contains some inherently sensitive subject matter. Violence, murder, rape, molestation, abuse, and a number of other themes that would, understandable, make some people uncomfortable. About half way into the film the main character is subjected to anal rape and torture. There was nothing explicitly shown on screen besides the strong visual indicators implying the abuse. Sounds and the characters reactions could be seen and heard but visually it was nothing graphic. Of course film has the ability to strongly suggest actions and themes to the extent that we react to them as if they was, actually, shown, and this is my point. In a medium where themes and ideas are birthed from the images shown on screen how is it that a half second flash of pubic hair has to be blurred out? It amazes me beyond belief.

I was highly annoyed by this experience and as I said I felt cheated of a full and uninterrupted experience. There is nothing more jarring that watching a film and knowing that someone has taken the power from you as a spectator. Censorship definitely has it place but when done in this way I believe it shows no consideration for the audience at all. What do you think about censorship in Korea cinema and on television? How, if at all, are films and television programs censored in your own country? Please feel free to share you thoughts on this topic in the comment section below.

-C.J. Wheeler (

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