Friday, April 4, 2008

Syndromes and a Century: The long road home

In today's Bangkok Post, Kong Rithdee offers a comprehensive look at the tortured machinations Apichatpong Weerasethakul had to go through to get his acclaimed Syndromes and a Century screened in his native land. For a year, a print of the film has been held hostage by the Royal Thai Police censors. Apichatpong finally retrieved the incarcerated reels after the Board of Censors' film editor snipped out the offending scenes with his scissors, with the director watching as the shears sliced through.

This "exclusive Thailand edition" opens on April 10 at the Paragon Cineplex, where it will play twice a day. A limited edition set of postcards -- images of the scenes that were cut out by censors and replaced by scratched black film leader by the director -- will be given to ticket buyers. The Thai Film Foundation has set up an exhibition, "History of Thai Censorship", in the cinema lobby. Part of the proceeds from the box office will go to the Free Thai Cinema Movement under support of the Thai Film Foundation.

Here's more from the Bangkok Post story (cache):

I would like the public to become aware of the problem of censorship and to stimulate a discussion in society," says Apichatpong. "Even though the Film Act of 1930 has been replaced by a new one, passed last December, the new law, which introduced a rating system, still permits censorship and the provision to ban a movie. That is not an improvement to people's freedom of expression ...

"I'd like the audience to feel that they're forced to be in the dark, while the scratches signify an agent of destruction," he says. "If censorship is still with us, then maybe this is how we should watch the movies."

The censors' reasoning is that the film shows inappropriate pictures that might harm the integrity of Thai monks and the medical profession, especially during a scene in which doctors are shown drinking whisky.

Chalida Uabumrungjit of Thai Film Foundation, organiser of the screening and exhibition, says she's aware of the tricky process of promoting the release of this much-awaited film and at the same time informing the public that it's a censored edition.

"To show this movie in a big downtown theatre is a statement," she says. "And I believe that to choose to watch it is also a form of statement from the viewers." In the exhibit, visitors can revisit the first incident of film censorship in pre-constitution Siam, when Amnad Mued (Dark Power) was originally banned for featuring scenes of a criminal den, but was later allowed to screen by King Rama VII.

The polarised attitudes for and against censorship, Chalida says, have been a constant since the time of the original Film Act in 1930. Back then, there was even a poster campaign condemning cinema as a "lesson on how to become a crook", with reference to crime movies of the day. But there was also the argument, as posited in a letter to a journal, that "cinema is also a lesson for policemen - on how to catch a crook."

"It's not so much different from today's situation," says Chalida. "I think the practice of censorship can be tied to the political temperature at any given period. During the Cold War, we refused to screen films from China, and a Thai political film like Tong Pan was banned following the 1976 uprising.

"Also interesting is the inconsistency of the 'judgements': for example, films boldly advertised as soft-core pornography were not banned in the late 1970s, though we can be certain that such films would never pass the censors today."

As the pro-censorship camp plays the perpetual save-our-children card, the no-cut-no-ban side maintains the constitutional right of freedom of expression.

"The problem is that some people still believe that they actually have better judgement than the rest of the nation, that they are upholding ultimate righteousness," says Chalida. "Democracy is not only about the majority, but also about accommodating the minority. We're not asking for anything more than a little space for non-mainstream culture to exist. What we do is not a crime."

More information:


  1. I've seen the uncut version of the movie at the last Venice festival.

    Censorship is a heavy problem for a lot of country worldwide (even in Italy a kind of censorship is still alive) and the real reason is in the old and obsolete laws and acts of these countries.

    Even if the Thai constitution guarantees liberty of expression there are some clauses that forbittens to show scene of nudity and sex, consumption of drugs and cigarettes, use of firearms. But this law went up back to 1930 and often rouses the complete interdiction of foreign movies in Thailand. In this case censorship defers for a year the exit at home of this Apichatpong's masterpiece and imposes the cut of some scenes replaced by the director with black and white scratchy reels. A great idea 'cause the censured reel's lenght recalls the memory the anachronistic revision work.

    p.s. Sorry for my catastrophic english!

  2. Thanks for your comments Lea! I think Apichatpong's decision to screen the film with scratched black frames to replace the censored scenes is brilliant. He's taken adversity and used it to make a statement, that despite him saying it's cynical, I think is a positive way of looking at things.

  3. I'm agree with you. The reels are still in their place (even if they're obscurated and censured, but, meaningfully, not cut away)like a monition to the audience. Censorship, in this way, concretizes itself like an impending danger. The director expresses his talent with a fancy reaction to the authority.
    I regret that I cannot come to the 10 April film screening, enjoy it for me!


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