Korea censorship 'Battle' continues

Mexican film latest victim of vague standards

SEOUL -- Mexican director Carlos Reygadas' "Battle in Heaven" has been given a restricted rating by a local censorship body for the third time, virtually banning the film from release.

Last week, the Korea Media Rating Board categorized the film's obscenity level as "very high," explaining in a jury statement that the film's sexual depiction is "too extreme" and therefore could "challenge the general sentiment of an ordinary citizen."

The film, which tells of a working-class couple kidnapping an infant for ransom, had been first submitted to the board in 2005. Citing the film's supposedly overt sexual content, the board gave the film restricted rating, which limits the screening to adult cinemas only. However, no such cinema exists in the country.

World Cinema, the film's local importer, proposed the board for a second review. It received the same rating, and the case eventually went to the Constitutional Court, which in July ruled against the "vague standards" of the censorship regulations stipulated by the board.

Taboos surrounding nudity have been a continuing battle in Korean cinema from the country's darker days under dictatorship.

In the most recent case, "Shortbus," John Cameron Mitchell's sexually explicit film, twice received a restricted rating here by the board.

The film's importer eventually blurred out nude scenes, and released it in art house cinemas after months of legal battle. The film attracted 19,800 filmgoers in little over a month.

Industry insiders explain that the board's standards of rating categories are still missing clear principles, and that obscenity cannot be measured out by flesh only.

An example that came recently into the spotlight was Park Chan-wook's "Thirst," which passed the board's rating while showing the male lead, a Catholic priest, exposing his penis after he was caught for raping a woman. The film later went on to compete at the Festival de Cannes, where it shared the Jury Prize.

In the ruling for "Battle in Heaven," the board pointed to the film's problematic "close-up scenes of the male lead's erect genitalia."

"I can't see how a priest having sex is less obscene than what you see in this film," said Byun Seok-jong, the representative of World Cinema, who said he imported the film after seeing it at Cannes in 2005. "Obviously, the conceptual notion of obscenity has been ignored."

Still, Byun refuses to blur out scenes for the film's release. He said: "What's the point of going to a theater and see the censored version of a film if you can download the film at home and see the director's version? This is already a losing game."