Sponge drives 'Shortbus' past Korea censors


What do you do when regulators will not allow you to import a provocative movie into the country? Hit the festival circuit, of course. At least that is South Korean distributor Sponge's solution to getting John Cameron Mitchell's sexually frank film "Shortbus" to audiences here.

Sponge twice brought "Shortbus" before the Korea Media Ratings Board, once in its original form and once with mosaics covering problematic areas, only to receive the "restricted" rating each time.

The restricted rating limits a film to special, adults-only theaters. However, only one such theater exists (in the southwest city of Gwangju), in effect banning any film that receives the rating.

According to the KMRB: "The movie is extremely indecent, depicting the pursuit of sexual pleasure, orgies, masturbation, sadism, spraying semen, homosexuality, anal sex, the exposure of male and female genitals and more."

However, Sponge was able to find a loophole — movies can play in Korea without censorship as long as they are part of a film festival that has been sanctioned by the Korea Film Council and the KMRB. Sponge has a small film festival, called Cine Hue, beginning May 10, so they decided to add "Shortbus" to the festival lineup.

"We expected the movie would get an 18+ rating because director John Cameron Mitchell edited 29 scenes himself for the Asian market," Sponge's Cho Sung-kyu said. "Japan and Taiwan allowed this movie to be released in ordinary cinemas. Only in Korea was there a different outcome, so I am perplexed.

"Movie ratings are necessary in any country with social codes and rules, but banning a screening violates the principle of freedom of expression," Cho added.

It is not the first time Sponge has had trouble with the KMRB. Patrice Chereau's "Intimacy" also received a restricted rating, though it later passed in a masked version. Horror title "Beyond Re-Animator" could not pass in any form.

In 2003, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" infamously received a restricted rating and required three cuts before it could be shown in Korea.

Mitchell is coming to Korea in May for a staging of his musical "Hedwig" and is expected to attend a screening of "Shortbus."