Beyond the blur, films focus on fleshDirector Julio Medem's erotic film “Sex and Lucia” was released, unedited and unblurred, in Korean theaters last week. With shots of naked bodies and close-ups of bare body parts, the audience watched in shock as the Spanish film, rated NC-17 in the United States, slipped by with a moderate “18” rating in Seoul.
Until last year, nudity was not to be seen, and pubic hair wasn’t anywhere. Such scenes ― or parts ― were blurred out of recognition for theater versions. The audience had to wait for an uncut version to be released on videotape or over the Internet to watch the raw version.
This year, however, filmmakers are ratcheting up their portrayals of sex, violence, and well... more sex.
Cho Seong-gyu, an operations director of Sponge, the domestic distributor for “Sex and Lucia,” said he never expected the film to get the 18 rating.
He said he went ahead and imported the film without much hope that it would actually be released in theaters. One reason he didn’t expect much was because the non-edited version had received the NC-17 rating in the United States, and even the edited version was rated R.
So for the Korean version, Mr. Cho went as far as to submit papers to the Korea Media Rating Board explaining the director's intended message in the film, and telling members that the movie was not porn. But the response from the board threw him.
“We judge a film on its own virtues,” the board said. “Don’t worry about turning in unnecessary paperwork.”
Just two years ago, when Mr. Cho and his production imported Patrice Chereau’s film “Intimacy,” Mr. Cho said the board blurred entire scenes so much that, “not even one pubic hair could be seen.”
Kim Nan-suk, a department head for the independent arts theater Hypertheque Nada, said she had also noticed that the ratings board has become more generous. She noted that Roger Michell’s “Mother,” a British film about an affair between a woman in her 60s and a married man in his 40s, received the relatively restrained 18 rating.
Peter Greenaway’s 1988 film “Drowning by Numbers” was also heavily blurred last year when it was finally imported here. But this year, Ms. Kim said a number of films are opening with little or no censorship.
Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Dreamers,” Cedric Kahn’s “L’Ennui” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Eros” are some of the sexually explicit films that were introduced here this year with an 18 rating.
“The times have changed and [the board] believes the rules should change as well,” said Lee Gyeong-sun, chairwoman of the Korea Media Rating Board. Ms. Lee was a staff member of the board in 1999, when it was launched.
“There was actually a provision that stipulated a ‘no hair’ policy,” she said. “It was ridiculous.
“I also believe Korean society has matured enough to embrace various kinds of content,” she said.
But some restrictions still exist. A North Korean film that closely depicted mammals mating was withheld for several months by the board. The scenes were cut and edited, and the film finally received an 18 rating before its release at the end of the year.
Not all films have been so lucky: Tinto Brass's “Do It” and Brian Yuzna's “Beyond Re-Animator” are two works that are still being reviewed by the board for “excessive sex and violence scenes.”
by Park Jeong-ho