It’s hardly censorshipIt is exaggerated and unreasonable to argue that the “restricted screening” rating is a form of censorship. In the Korean film industry today, no restriction is given just because a director created a movie on a certain theme. A film can be stopped from screening before being rated, but that’s just an administrative step in the process. It’s different from censorship. Claiming that the rating system restricts film-making or viewing is deceptive.
Rating video images created in Korea is a legitimate decision under the law. It is different from the system in the United States and Japan, where the private sector rates movies voluntarily. After the Constitutional Court ruled in 1996 that it is unconstitutional to censor movies before screening, the censorship system was abolished and the current rating system was introduced.
Under this system, no film-making process is monitored or stopped. The authority only rates finished products - and only the movies that are going into theaters for the general public. If a director chooses not to screen the movie in theaters and instead shows his movie for non-commercial purposes in a limited way, the movie doesn’t have to undergo ratings review.
In fact, the current rating system of “restricted screening” is an outcome that reflected the film industry’s demands. It was a newly created rating to guarantee a wider scope of expression in a movie - instead of cutting specific scenes or postponing the release - while restricting the audience.
Theaters exclusively showing “restricted screening” movies opened, starting with one in Daegu in May 2004 and then other areas including Gwangju. But they soon disappeared because of the unstable supply of “restricted screening” movies and low profits. The film industry’s expectation to respect the freedom of expression while seeking profits showed its limits.
The problem is not freedom of expression, but about distribution. Cinema industry workers can produce movies, but they cannot have the right to distribute and screen the products on their own. That’s the same as owning an exclusive cultural monopoly. Would it be reasonable for a driver to argue that I will drive my car the way I want so traffic lights, signs and speed limits must all be abolished?
If cinema workers want to promote freedom of expression and influence the screening process, they must make more efforts to open exclusive theaters for “restricted screening” films rather than criticizing the rating system. Theater operators have already agreed that they won’t stop the creation of “restricted rating” movies and opening of exclusive cinemas. The Korean movie industry has grown so powerful it can shape public opinion, and it must remember that its cultural power comes with responsibility.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a professor of drama and film at Inha University and film critic.
By Cho Hee-moon