Kim Ki-duk Cuts Incest Scenes in 'Moebius' After Korean Rating Board Ban

The South Korean filmmaker has cut and edited 21 scenes that the board ruled too provocative for local audiences, effectively banning the film.

SEOUL -- Kim Ki-duk has cut one minute and 20 seconds of his controversial film Moebius in order to submit it for a retrial by the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB). The KMRB recently gave the film a “restricted rating,” which amounts to an effective ban in the country, as the rating requires that the film only be shown in "specialty theaters," of which there are no such venues in South Korea. The KMRB is said to have objected to Moebius' direct portrayals of incestuous sexual encounters between a mother and son.

In signed letter released to the press Tuesday, Kim explained that he decided to cut or modify 21 scenes that the KMRB had deemed “too problematic.” The director said he made the changes because he wanted to meet the film's previously scheduled domestic distribution date, slated for September.

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Appealing a rating judgment requires a three-month waiting period, and Kim said he did not want to risk receiving a restricted rating again. A retrial of a film that has been edited to meet the board's demands, on the other hand, can take place immediately after the given work has been modified according to the board’s feedback from the initial rating session.

Moebius portrays the destruction of a family as its members give into incestuous sexual desires. The film, much like the director's 3-Iron (2004), proceeds without dialog, and each scene is important, says the director.

“The plotline or expression of the scene might appear obscure, depending on the comprehension level of each audience member. But it is my hope that mature adult viewers would be able to discern the nuance and understand my intentions,” he said.

“As a filmmaker [cutting the scenes] is unfortunate, but in a market environment where major movies dominate theaters, I could not give up on this hard-won opportunity for the film to be released,” Kim said. The director has previously voiced disapproval of how small and independent films are often given little chance in local theaters, as when his Venice Golden Lion-winning Pieta was given a limited run earlier this year. 

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“I would be able to share the meaning of my film in overseas markets and film festivals, but emerging actors or staff members that took part in the project need the film to be shown in Korea so they can have the opportunity to become better known,” Kim said, adding, “Lee Eun-joo, who gave an impassioned performance in the role of a mother and lover, and Seo Yeong-ju, who plays the son, really deserve to show their work to Korean audiences.”

Kim has other reasons for insisting on the less than favorable means for distribution. His Cannes-winning film Arirang, despite the extensive media coverage it received for the award, never opened in Korean theaters, and yet was widely pirated in the country online.

“I have no choice but to seek domestic distribution for the film even if it means [cutting scenes], because I am afraid the cast and crew would lose their share of the film, like when Arirang was illegally downloaded after someone copied it from an Italian broadcaster,” said the filmmaker.

Kim expressed deep regret about the freedom of artistic expression in Korea: “In the future, films that need to portray scenes that could be problematic will have to seek working with foreign actors and production companies."