Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Syndromes and Singapore

Two attempts at censorship in Southeast Asia: one directly (a film), another indirectly (a festival).

In Thailand, following a protracted fight against the censorship of his film Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul relents and agrees to the demanded cuts, but not without making his disgust heard: the excised scenes will be replaced by silent scratched black leader. This will total 15 minutes of the films 105 minute running time.


“It’s cynical, but actually it’s a statement for the audience to make them aware that they are being blinded from getting information in this society,”

“Maybe there will be a small group of people who want to see my film, and this is the version they can see through the system,”

Syndromes producer Keith Griffith explains in Filmmaker magazine.
Bangkok’s new freesheet Daily Xpress reports.
*thanks to Wise Kwai

In Singapore the government, despite seeming abundance, continues to provide peanut-sized funding to the most important film festival in Southeast Asia, the Singapore International Film Festival, now on its 21st year.

Tan Pin Pin, director of the much lauded Singapore Gaga and Invisible City, was among a group of 25 respected members of the film community that attempted to rally support for the festival by writing a letter to the Singapore Film Commission and Media Development Authority late last year. Their words and request for a meeting fell on deaf ears.

Pin Pin:

Last year, SIFF’s finances were in dire straits and whether it could make it to the 21st edition was in doubt. When we knew SIFF was having difficulty fundraising, a group of us media professionals came together to help. One of the initiatives was to write a letter to the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) to persuade them to increase the funding for SIFF.

Our letter didn’t have much of an effect. Our request to meet them was alas not taken up because it “was not necessary”. The SFC/MDA has made very clear that it is not interested in an independently curated film festival like SIFF. For the 2008 edition, the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) gave SIFF $65,000 (US$40,000).

The show goes on as scheduled, April 4-14, but the festival remains in a difficult position financially. Pin Pin posts the letter, complete with notes from those who signed, and provides an address where monetary support for SIFF may be sent on her blog.

Update: April 9, 2008
Kong Rithdee writes about the release of Syndromes in an April 4 article for the Bangkok Post. Excerpts:

The film will be shown twice a day at Paragon Cineplex for two weeks, starting next Thursday. With every ticket purchased, the audience will receive a limited edition set of postcards bearing still photos of the censored scenes.

Along with the surprise release of this highly-praised Thai movie, which is as fascinating for its odd style as the ruckus that has built up around it, the Thai Film Foundation will organise an exhibition entitled “History of Thai Censorhip” in the theatre hall. Partly a chronicle of Saeng Satawat’s turbulent journey from its world premiere in Venice in September 2006 to the release of the cut version in its homeland 19 months later (see box), the exhibit will also trace the history of movie censorship in Thailand and its connection to the country’s politics since the time of King Rama VII.

“I would like the public to become aware of the problem of censorship and to stimulate a discussion in society,” says Apichatpong. “Even though the Film Act of 1930 has been replaced by a new one, passed last December, the new law, which introduced a rating system, still permits censorship and the provision to ban a movie. That is not an improvement to people’s freedom of expression.”


“I’d like the audience to feel that they’re forced to be in the dark, while the scratches signify an agent of destruction,” he says. “If censorship is still with us, then maybe this is how we should watch the movies.”


Chalida Uabumrungjit of Thai Film Foundation, organiser of the screening and exhibition, says she’s aware of the tricky process of promoting the release of this much-awaited film and at the same time informing the public that it’s a censored edition.

“To show this movie in a big downtown theatre is a statement,” she says. “And I believe that to choose to watch it is also a form of statement from the viewers.” In the exhibit, visitors can revisit the first incident of film censorship in pre-constitution Siam, when Amnad Mued (Dark Power) was originally banned for featuring scenes of a criminal den, but was later allowed to screen by King Rama VII.

The polarised attitudes for and against censorship, Chalida says, have been a constant since the time of the original Film Act in 1930. Back then, there was even a poster campaign condemning cinema as a “lesson on how to become a crook”, with reference to crime movies of the day. But there was also the argument, as posited in a letter to a journal, that “cinema is also a lesson for policemen – on how to catch a crook.”

2 Comments so far
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I’ll be heading into my first SIFF this year (to see more Lav Diaz!) with some eyes opened a bit wider. I thought it received more support than that.

Glad I’ve found you. Your bookmarked and subscribed.

Comment by wisekwai

Hi wisekwai,

Glad you found your way here.

Great to hear you’ll be going to SIFF this year, and even moreso that you’re gearing up to watch Lav Diaz’s new film! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. It was a pleasure to meet you at the “Heremias” screening in Bangkok last year, after having read your blog for some time.

If you’re interested in a recommendation, another Filipino film screening in SIFF that I think deserves a look is “When Timawa Meets Delgado”. It tackles the phenomenon of studying nursing in the Philippines (also known as: one of the quickest ways to a Visa to work in the US and earn dollars), mixing documentary and fiction in a collage of sorts. It’s essentially a comedy (it’s hilarious) but I think achieves something much more by the time it finishes, building momentum slowly and reaching a certain level of poignancy by its end. This will be its international premiere. Do give it a look if you have a chance.

Comment by Alexis

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