16 Jul 2006

On film censorship in Singapore

Cross-posted in Illusio

There's an interesting thread going on in Singabloodypore, sparked off by my fellow contributor Clyde posting a clip from Youtube, of Royston Tan's Cut, a diatribe and musical condemning the Film Censorship Board's historic and boundless butchering of films.

You'll have to understand it was made in 2004, shortly after the Film Censorship Board made an incredible 37 cuts to his arthouse homoerotic gangster film 15. You'll have to understand that in Q4 2005, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced a broad restructuring of the censorship system, such that
Distributors indicate preferred ratings upon submission. The Board of Film Censors (BFC) assesses if the film is suitable for the requested rating. If not, the BFC will suggest an alternative rating. Distributors may either accept the BFC's recommendation or edit the film to meet the guidelines for their preferred rating.
Anonymous posters in SBP charge that this is a purely cosmetic change, that "though MDA censorship board no longer cuts films, they can tell "distributors to edit the film" till MDA approves - which is just as good as cutting films.

You'll have to understand that the changes made to the Film Classification Board puts Singapore's film censorship procedures in line with that of the US MPAA film classification process.

You'll also have to understand that the claims made by various anonymouses about the cosmetic changes to Singapore's film censorship system can be easily verified or disproved. Surely any of you can click on this link to the Film Classification Database with me, and look at the films of 2006.

1. Controversial films with sexual content

Basic Instinct 2. R21. Passed with cuts. Of course, audiences need to be protected from sex scenes starring a 47 year old Sharon Stone.
Brokeback Mountain. R21. Passed Clean.
C.R.A.Z.Y. M18. Passed Clean.
Combien tu M'aimes (How much do you love me?). R21. Passed Clean.
Capote. NC16. Passed Clean.
Ask the Dust. R21. Passed Clean. Salma Hayek's rocks rock!
4:30. NC16. Passed Clean. Disturbing images of a 13 year old snipping of sleeping adult's pubic hair didn't get the chief censor incensed. Royston Tan complaineth too much.
Zombie Dogs. R21. Passed Clean.
Kinky Boots. PG. Passed Clean. Sympathetic account of drag queens.
The Hours. M18 DVD. Passed Clean. Lesbian kiss survives.
Chicago. M18 DVD/VCD. Passed Clean.

2. Simply controversial films believed to be blasphemous by fundie Christians
The Da Vinci Code. NC16. Passed Clean. Take that, NCCS!

3. Horror films. Presumbly the biggest beef in "Cut" was the rampant censoring out of all gore in horror films. In 2006, has anything changed?

The Devil's Rejects. M18. Passed Clean.
Boo. NC 16. Passed Clean.
House of the Dead. R21. Passed Clean.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 remake). RA. Passed CLEAN on second submission even though distributor didn't do any censorship or cutting on their own.
Frostbiten. NC16. Passed Clean.
Saw II. Distributor submitted one uncut version for M18 and one self-edited version for NC16. Both versions PASSED Clean without additional butchering from the censors.
Mortuary. NC 16. Passed Clean

All gore in horror films are intact in 2006.

Verdict: Anonymouses should just do some research before shooting off your mouths and indulging in masturbatory spiels, conspiracy theories, and rants on how the film censorship board is oppressing you.

Verdict: Since the liberalisation of film censorship and the reformation of the Film Censorship Board into a proper Film Classification Board, much less censorship has been exercised, with horror/controversial/sex-themed movies moving into NC16, M18 and R21 categories, where they tend to be overwhelming Passed Clean, i.e. passed without cuts.


Anonymous said...

Local films dealing with controversial subjects still get short shrift.

Even the police has gotten into the act.

For example, even after the 2005 censorship revision, Royston Tan's '15' will still receive 27 cuts simply because it was ordered by the Home Affairs.

The filmmaker of 'Singapore Rebel' is still undergoing police investigations, is he not?

Quite a few local short films have been banned and are still banned, including one by Eric Khoo.

While acknowledging that foreign films containing sex, violence, politics and even religion are passed uncut by censors, is the same leeway given to local filmmakers?

Let's see Jack Neo do a 'Road to Guantanamo' and get away with it.


akikonomu said...

Is your brain working? Because Royston Tan's "15" was submitted to the Board of Film Censors in 2003, way before the liberalisation.

As MDA's website suggests, all previously banned films before 2005/6 can be resubmitted for reclassification. It's a matter of whether auteurs like Eric Khoo and Royston Tan want to or not.

And if you were paying attention instead of wanking off to the screen, you would realise that Royston Tan's 4:30 was passed uncut this year.

Anonymous said...

because he sent a version within OB markers

this is what all the journalists, academics, writers, etc carefully consider: do you want to do business in this company town or not?

Matilah_Singapura said...

AFAIK HK "gangster" films are still banned because of the "bad influence" it puportedly has on young people.

Censorship goes much deeper than the history of the Board of Censors.

At one time it was almost impossible to get film in Chinese dialects, thanks to another one of Lee Kuan Yew's social engineering policies: the Speak Mandarin campaign.

The state's censors are not totally to blame, BTW. There are citizens who actually write in or call in to complain about films/books etc and urge the govt to not allow certain "bad influences" into the cuntry because "I don't want my children to grow up with the wrong ideas".

There you have it. People actually demanding the govt to play an active role in "parenting" their kids.

Mesti Matilah Singapura!

akikonomu said...

Matilah, you're extremely amusing! If I may ask: WHICH HK gangster films in the past 2 years have been banned? Better yet, which HK gangster films in the past 5 years have been banned?

ROFL, you can't be referring to A Better Tomorrow series?
Kung Fu Hustle. passed clean. PG
All 3 Infernal Affairs movies. passed clean. PG
SPL. passed clean. PG.
A Better Tomorrow. All DVD and VCD versions passed clean. NC16 and M18.
As tears go by/江湖风云. VCD version passed clean. NC16.
Hard boiled/辣手神探. VCD and DVD versions passed clean, film version passed clean during resubmission in 2005, original release passed with cuts. PG

So far the evidence states that your brain matilah!

Anonymous said...

For the record, '15' was recently screened last year (2005) at the Screen Singapore festival. Those who saw it said it was heavily censored, not unlike the 2003 cinema version.

It is likely that the producers submitted the censored version. You would to if your actor was being interrogated by the police.

Read this article on how the police insisted to have 26 deletions to '15', and how one of its actors was interrogated.



Matilah_Singapura said...

So you mean that anything goes these days in sg?

If that's so, thanks for telling us ;-)

I was under the impression that the HK gangster films were still out, because I was told so only a few days ago by a video store owner.

I suppose then, it is lucky for humanity that you're around to alert us of our "mistakes", isn't that so?

Trowa Evans said...

I have to say that I find akikonomu's manner of "shooting the barrel" at other's people's comments unconstructive and very uncomfortable, but nevertheless I will venture out my thought here. I do agree that people shouldn't simply dismiss the entire MDA as a strict Nazi-type propaganda machine; clearly, things are not so black-and-white, but then again I am quite critical of the way they control the gateways of the media information channels.

Since we are strictly discussing about films, my opinion is that it isn't necessarily gore/violence themes that are on the govt's watchdog priority list. Horror movies have been on the market for a long time, and most viewers don't get fussed up with a few simple edits for asethetic unpleasantness, except for the movie purists. Also, in the past, the govt paid no attention to "artistic values/integrity" and were more focused in building a very "clean and civil" moral conscience, especially without the excesses of "western decadence". Many people supported that, and some still do today, of course.

Now, the environment has clearly changed, and I do think many factors come into play here; the ones that are familiar to Singaporeans are the emphasis on respecting "artistic integrity"; the demand for more consumer choices; and the compulsory drive to develop this country as a "vibrant cosmopolitian" city. On the other hand, I think the other factor that could be taken into account (and which is impt to me) is the neo-liberal economic policy the Sg govt is pursuing, by opening the media market to more foreign penetration. In this case, we don't have to delude ourselves that it would mean more domination of Western products, such as Hollywood films. In fact, akikonomu's point that the censorship system currently seems to follow the same clasification process of the US media system, seems to indicate that.

However, the media authority still operates according to the core ethos of the ruling party, particularly the conservative ones; meaning, there shouldn't be films that try to "subvert" the foundations of our "cohesive, racial-harmonious" society, and thus, certain themes such as positive representations of homosexuals, or other marginalised members of society (e.g. single mothers, juvenile delinquents), exaggerated themes of the economically disadvantaged, and sensationalisation of sensitive political, racial, religious themes. I also think there's enough evidence to support that claim, though I won't recall it here.

Akikonomu has certainly accumulated evidence that supports her views, but I don't think it is crucially relevant to the criticism about the MDA or the ideology that follows from the govt's media surveillance and control. Yeah, we get to watch more gory films and some shows that are borderline politically sensitive, and while I do appreciate it in some ways, personally that is the least of my concerns. The entire system of governing the media still follows an ideology, that as far as I can tell, has no real prospect of fundamental change in the near future.

Of course, one can still argue whether this form of media authority is justified or not, but that's an issue for another day.

Anonymous said...

The only reason Brokeback Mountain was passed is that it is a tale of doomed lovers - something the PAP would love to see happen to all queer love.

By contrast, a Taiwanese queer-themed film - I forget the title - in which the lovers have a happy ending was banned.

Trowa Evans said...

Btw, I just wanted to say that I never read the original thread that sparked this off, so maybe my earlier post is off tangent here, in which case you can disregard it. Incidentally, I also think the type of media censorship that should be of issue isn't foreign films per say, but local media content, or the significant ones that could potentially have an impact on Singapore society.

Anonymous said...

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akikonomu said...

Well, C.R.A.Z.Y. was a very sympathetic and wonderful queer coming-of-age movie, and the protagonist was accepted by his conservative parents, and actually had a happy ending. It also made fun of the Catholic Church o_0. Passed clean, if I may add.

Locally, filmmakers can and do get away with controversial and subversive topics in the short film medium. These works are shown in the Substation's monthly First Takes programme. There was a bumper crop of subversive film material during the Substation's Emergency Filmmaking Project in 2002, as part of the protest against the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

teck soon said...

The banned Taiwanese gay film that the above anonymous contributer is referring to is entitled "Formula 17". There is no sex or violence. It was banned for portraying gays positively.

FSV student said...

Aikonomu wrote: "Locally, filmmakers can and do get away with controversial and subversive topics in the short film medium."


O'really?? Maybe u should check on the status of 'Singapore Rebel' and also why the new film on Said Zahari was withdrawn during this year's film fest. Boring into the details without seeing the big picture is not healthy, yah?

pantalaimon said...

Akikonomu, none of the films you cited was genuinely particularly experimental or political. How about some politial or more genuinely controversial films? Brokeback Mountain is not ultimately particularly deserving of controversy.

Cut: Jarhead, V for Vendetta, The Road to Guantanamo, Team America: World Police

Banned/not recommended: Battle Royale II

To be fair some passed uncut (Syriana, Cache) and some simply never got submitted (Tsotsi, The Manchurian Candidate - did the filmmakers think there was just no point?)

But insofar as these films were cut when the more in-your-face gore or sex of others weren't, you have to wonder why. This is more troubling to me than simply not getting to see titties and disembowellment on-screen.

Matilah_Singapura said...

What Akikonomu has also forgotten to mention, is that the state still has absolute powers in banning anything it chooses to at anytime for any reason.

The "freedom" given to films is in itself a myth: no govt can "give" freedom, it can only take them away.

If there was a constitution/bill of individual rights guaranteeing the PROTECTION of certain freedoms, at least a challenge from the public may be able to FORCE a govt to manage the country and its citizens by the ground rules set up in the constitution.

So don't cheer too loudly. The S'pore govt didn't "grant" more freedom in expression through film. It only backed off on its monopoly of territorial coercion.

Matilah_Singapura said...


On wednesday, 26 July 2006, a freind and I went to catch the screening of HENY AND JUNE at The Arthouse, Singapore.

We were sheepishly told by the staff that the Singapore Media Development Authority aka The Censors" DID NOT approve the film.

akikonomu , this info is for your "amusement".

Oh BTW, you are wrong, you fucking wanker, censorship is very much alive and well. It would do you a heap of good to check your facts properly, before shooting off that cake-hole of yours :-)