Seen in Jeonju

Korean Box Office: August 6-8

8th August 2010


The Man From Nowhere, the official international title of Ajeoshi, squeaked by Inception and took the first rank spot which was vacated by Salt, now in the third tier.  But the shuffling of the box office was not the big news this weekend. A far more interesting story is the battle over I Saw The Devil.

It has been a while that censorship has so visibly raised its ugly head. It is true that The Butcher, a film that played at the Pucheon International Fantastic Film festival last year, was denied a release in Korea but no one really cared about that. It was an unknown slaher film with unknown actors. However, I Saw The Devil is a big-budget thriller directed by one of the more respected film directors and starring Korea’s two biggest actors–Lee Byeong-heon and Choi Min-shik.  The film was given a rating that effectively prevents it from opening in Korea. The production company had already spent a fortune on advertising and reserving theaters and they are refusing to give up the release date coming this week. Will the film open? We will know soon…

Censorship is nothing new to Korean theater, but it is something I thought was almost at an end. It was a common practice at the dawn of the age of Korean cinema, for the Japanese Colonial Government to review and censor films. Usually, this was done for political reasons and eventually, by the late 1930s, the government had completely taken control of the industry as a propaganda tool. However, they also censored for moral reasons. The Bloody Horse (1928) was a film based on the true story of an incest case. Censors took one look at it and chopped off more than 1000 feet of film. It was later denied a release and is now lost. The 60s thru 80s were infamous for the amount of censorship the government imposed on film. The Aimless Bullet (1961) was yanked from theaters after opening for its criticism of society and the government following the millitary coup thought it was too dangerous.  From that point, the government put the film industry in a stranglehold that nearly killed it by the 70s. Director Yoo Hyeon-mok faced fines and jail time for his ‘flouting’ of obsenity laws in Empty Dreams (1965) because it appeared the lead actress bared her back. She didn’t–she was wearing a nude-colored cloth. But it looked like she was nude and that was enough to offend the moral sensibilities of the censors. More recently films like Lies (1999) and Too Young To Die (2002) faced similar struggles–Lies failed, Too Young to Die managed to open–a sign of the changing times under a civilian government. What are we supposed to think now that the government is once again trying to protect our moral sensibilities? Don’t worry, I am sure the conservatives of President Lee’s government will tell us what we can think….

Anyway…now that I’ve got that off my chest… the films being released this week are listed below.


1. Descent 2 (uk)– d. Jon Harris, starring Shauna MacDonald, Douglas Hodge

2. El Sistema (de/fr)–d. Maria Stodfmeier, starring Paul Smaczny <documentary>

3. Experiment (us)– d. Paul Scheuring, starring Adrien Brody, Forest Whitaker

4. Gloomy Sunday (jp)– d. Masato Harada, starring Yuko Oshima, Ryuhei Matsuda

5. I Saw the Devil (kr)–d. Kim Ji-woon, starring Lee Byeong-heon, Choi Min-shik

6. Limits of Control (us)– d. Jim Jarmusch, starring Isaach DeBankole, John Hurt

7. Nanny McPhee 2 (us)– d. Susanna White, starring Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal

8. Ocean World 3D (uk)– Jean-Jacques Mantell <documentary>

9. Possession of David Reilly (uk)– d. Steve Isles, starring Giles Anderson, Francesca Fowler <opening as Paranormal Possession in Korea>

2 Responses to “Korean Box Office: August 6-8”

  1. Duncan Says:

    his ‘flaunting’ of obsenity laws

    I think you mean ‘flouting’ here. ‘Flaunting’ means exhibitionistically waving around; ‘flouting’ means defying.

  2. Tom Says:

    Thanks for pointing that out–I will fix it now.

    The above rant was entirely out of character for me. I rarely talk politics but have found myself being increasingly frustrated lately with the current conservative government. (and don’t get me started on the ‘Four Rivers Project’…