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South Korean Movie Stirs Controversy - 2002-09-27

A South Korean film has become a hit at international film festivals but it has been essentially banned at home. The reason: the film includes a lengthy sex scene between an elderly man and woman.

The movie, Too Young to Die by director Park Jin-Pyo, is based on a real-life love affair between a couple in their seventies. They meet, fall in love, he teaches her to write, she teaches him to sing, they hold a simple wedding ceremony, they make love.

It is that last item that has South Korea's film community in a bit of an uproar. The movie has been all but banned at home, even though it received positive reviews at the Cannes film festival in France and has been invited to screen at other festivals around the world.

The Korea Media Rating Board labels the movie "unfit for public viewing." The board objects to a seven-minute sequence of the couple making love.

The board gave the movie a "restricted" rating, which amounts to a ban because, it can only be screened in an R-rated-movie theater and none exist in the country.

The decision was far from unanimous - three members of the board resigned over it. But the Rating Board head defends the decision, saying the sex scene went beyond reasonable bounds.

The director, Park Jin-Pyo refuses to cut or digitally blur the offending scene. A group of young filmmakers in the country issued a statement accusing the board of stifling freedom of expression and overstepping its duties.

The rating board's decision also raised a debate about how the elderly are perceived in this strongly Confucian country. Traditionally, old people are treated as lofty and inaccessible, with needs different from those of the young.

Dr. Kim Suk San, who is with the Korea Welfare foundation, praises the film for shaking up stereotypes of the elderly.

Dr. Kim says that traditionally in Korea, people have never associated the elderly with sex. Even though, old people still have feelings of desire and longing, young people have not been able to understand this, basically because of ignorance. So the subject of the elderly having sexual feelings has been taboo.

He thinks the movie educates people about the elderly and is a positive thing.