Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Thai censors blot out blood in Sweeney Todd

Amidst the washed-out, black and grey Gothic production design of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, there is a lot of red - blood red that is.

And it has proven to be too much blood for the Thai censors, who have asked distributor Warner Bros. to tone it down for the film's release in Thailand.

In this adaptation of a stage musical by Tim Burton, Johnny Depp portrays a murderous barber who uses his razors to slit the throats of dozens of his customers who come to his tonsorial parlour. They get a much closer shave than they bargained for. Some of the graphic scenes of throats being cut and spraying, spurting blood have been pixellated out through the same "foggy blurring" process that is used to obscure nudity, smoking, drug use and guns on Thai television and home-video releases.

While pixellation has been used to blot out sexual acts and naked body parts in films, violence in cinematic releases has traditionally received a pass by censors, but with the release of Sweeney Todd, which opens in Thailand cinemas on Thursday, it appears that blood-letting, no matter how stylised and cartoonish, is a no-no.

Is there any point in going to see a film in Thai cinemas? I'm beginning to think not. If the new ratings system is enacted, will the Thai censors continue their defacing of films? More than likely so.


  1. Welcome to your new home, I like the new format a lot.

    I've read your other posts on the new Film Act on the Nation and Rotten Tomatoes--does anyone have any idea when it's supposed to start taking effect?

    You know, your Thai film writings are very spread out now. If you're interested in making the effort, you should use Blogger's ability to date posts whenever in the past that you want to migrate your years(!) of posts on The Vine over to here, keeping the original dates. It would be good for traffic in the long run, and most excellent for readers like yours truly.

  2. Thanks Rikker!

    I think it will be awhile before we see the ratings system enacted, if ever. I understood that another law or ministerial regulation was needed to put the law into operation. With the new government, it's going to take time for any new laws or Cabinet orders to come up, and even then, I'll be surprised if the film act is assigned any importance at all. I won't be surprised if it is simply forgotten. The draft film act had major problems with the ban and censor provisions, but in theory the ratings would be better than what we have now. Perhaps a film like Sweeney Todd could be left intact and rated U18 or U20.

    But for now, we just have some entrenched conservatives in the culture ministry making idiotic, harmful decisions that only suit them and no one else. They are not accountable to anyone. Anyone I ask about this situation just shrugs. People are powerless against these close-minded, paranoid thugs.

    I have thought about migrating my reviews and other choice postings from Rotten Tomatoes over here, and your suggestion about back-dating them is a good one. I have some other housekeeping items to attend to, so I'll add that one to the list.

  3. That's either good news or bad, I guess. If it becomes ratings and censorship, like it sounded it would when the act was passed, then there's no hurry to pass the act. The glimmer of good news is that the new NLA could always reconsider the act and realize how it should really be one or the other. It's hard to climb back up a slippery slope.

    Hearing that they've butchered (ha!) Sweeney Todd makes me die a little inside. Now I'm definitely not seeing it in the theater, which is sad because every Tim Burton film looks better on the big screen.

    Cutting scenes is one thing, but censoring a film with blurs is totally distracting and has the potential to destroy the scene. Did you see Music & Lyrics? It was a mediocre rom-com, but there's a concert at the end with a huge Buddha statue as the centerpiece on the singer's stage. It was such a huge blur on the screen that it took me a while to figure out what the offending item was, but its shape eventually gave it away.

    We see enough of this ridiculousness on TV with blurring out of cigarettes and alcohol. How is it possible that the irony of a government that censors cigarettes on TV while operating a tobacco monopoly is lost on everyone? Among other, huger ironies, of course...

    Moral of the story: Hooray for DVDs.

    (Oh, and I just reread my last paragraph from the earlier comment.. I'm not sure how it came out so garbled. That'll teach me to try to be coherent in the middle of the night!)

  4. Unbelievable. Just last week I watched throat slashings and a completely naked Viggo Mortensen kill two men with a knife, one of whom he stabbed in the eye, in the excellent Eastern Promises. You can imagine my surprise today when I was watching sweeney todd! I was quite angry and it mostly ruined the film for me.

  5. A, I think Eastern Promises might have been snipped, too: The brothel scene. I expected the bathhouse scene to be cut or smudged somehow, but they let it run in full. The throat-cut in Eastern Promises wasn't so bad.

    I think what got to the weak-stomached Thai censors on Sweeney Todd was the amount of blood, and the way it spurted and sprayed - no worse than the Zatoichi remake a few years ago, but times are changing.


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