Saturday, April 12, 2008

The six censored scenes of Syndromes and a Century

I have not yet been to see Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition, but I do have some reactions from a couple of co-workers who saw it on Thursday night.

For Thailand, cultural authorities removed six scenes they deemed harmful to the holy trinity of Nation, Religion and King. The director replaced the missing footage with scratched, black frames. The blanked-out scenes run in length from 16 seconds to around 7 minutes, for a total of around 15 minutes.

"It's sick," says one colleague, who saw the original, uncut version at the Thai press preview more than a year ago. As a film, it's horrible, she says, with the best parts cut out. "Fifteen minutes is like an hour," she says of the blacked-out scenes.

Another colleague says director Apichatpong Weerasethakul himself said he didn't realize the missing footage would make so much difference in understanding the story. But it does. The film is gutted.

In its original form, the two-segment story was an ode to the director's parents, both physicians. The first half involves a woman doctor at a rural hospital, the second a male doctor working in a slightly more modern, big city hospital. A subplot involves a young Buddhist monk who wishes he was a DJ, and is pursued for possible romance by a singing dentist.

While the censored version may not be pretty to look at, it's a harsh, bold statement about censorship in Thailand and the authorities' complete disregard for freedom of artistic expression.

Syndromes and a Century: Thailand's Edition is being screened at the Paragon Cineplex. Last I checked, there were several screenings a day, running from around 1pm with the last screening at around 10pm.

A large postcard is being handed out to all ticket buyers, containing images from the six banned scenes. The scenes have all been uploaded to YouTube, and the URLs are provided on the card, though they are hard to read, which I think was the intention of the director. Anyway, here they are.

Monk Playing Guitar
This scene was cut because censors believed it gives the wrong impression about how Buddhist monks should behave. Buddhist monks do not play guitars. Ever. (1:22)

Royal Statue 1
This is a statue of HRH Prince Father Mahidol Adulyadej, the Prince of Songkhla, who is considered to be the father of Thai medicine. He is the father of His Majesty the King. Censors were likely uncomfortable with the director using a royal personage in what is clearly meant as a loving tribute to fatherhood. (0:16)

Doctors Drink Whiskey
The longest of the banned scenes, this was cut because censors felt it reflected poorly on the Thai medical profession. Doctors do not drink whiskey while they are on duty in the hospital. And they would never keep a bottle hidden away inside a prosthetic leg. Never! (6:44)

Doctor's Kiss
So hot! So passionate! So heartfelt! It must not be viewed! Again, this scene was cut because censors felt it reflected poorly on the Thai medical profession. When they are in the hospital, doctors should remain professional, and always be seeing patients. The would not ever take any time during their busy days, in the privacy of their own offices, to visit with their loved ones. (3:47)

Royal Statue 2
The censors must have been uncomfortable with the director paying tribute to motherhood, so they cut this scene of a statue of the Princess Mother, the mother of His Majesty the King. (0:17)

Monk playing UFO
Again, censors were uncomfortable with this depiction of Buddhist monks engaging in a worldly activity. Buddhist monks do not play with toys, especially cool toys like this. In light of the censorship, the Don Quixote statue in this scene takes on new meaning. (0:36)

In determining why the scenes were cut, I have tried to look at them from viewpoint of a staunchly conservative bureaucrat. It's a scary place to be in. I still don't fully comprehend how the censored scenes were deemed harmful. I think there is another message being sent to the director -- one they can't come right out and say because they are too afraid.

The fact that these scenes have been censored is far more damaging to the image of Thailand. If the film had been allowed to unspool a year ago without any cuts, it would long be out of the conciousness of the mainstream viewing public. Before the censorship debacle, Syndromes and a Century was a remarkable film. Now, it is truly historic.

See also:

1 comment:

  1. Your analysis is refreshing. In particular, everything ending with exclamation points.

    The censors are obviously being vindictive with these cuts. They just wanted to humiliate and shame Apichatphong, and show them their smallmindedness is more "powerful" than his art. They could have opted to blur much or all of the supposedly offensive things out, but no.

    The funniest part is the workings of the Streisand effect, when attempts at censorship end up in the censored material becoming more prominent and seen by far more people than it would have been if left alone.

    It may not be a big deal to the Thai public at large, but this elegantly brilliant act of protest--replacing the scenes with scratched leader--will go down in history. Or so say I.


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