Move raises moral crackdown questions

BANGKOK — Thai censors have demanded that three scenes be cut from arthouse pic “Syndromes and a Century” before it’s allowed for theatrical release on Thursday.

Move has stunned producers and local cinephiles and raised further questions about a moral crackdown under the country’s military-backed government.

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “Syndromes” preemed in competition at last September’s Venice Film Festival and has since collected awards on the fest circuit. It is a Thai-French-Austrian co-production commissioned as part of the New Crowned Hope series celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.

Controversial scenes in the movie about the memories of two doctors include an image of a young monk casually strumming a guitar; a scene of four doctors drinking whisky in a hospital storeroom; and a scene of a male doctor kissing his girlfriend in the hospital’s locker room.

A representative from the Thai Medical Council said that the scenes involving doctors are improper and do not portray good conduct by medical professionals. “Drinking liquor is OK, but drinking it in a hospital is not,” Supawat Pothong of the Council’s law department said.

The scene showing the monk playing the guitar is against the Buddhist precepts, according to the censorship board.

Weerasethakul, whose parents were both doctors, insists he won’t cut his film.

“I treat my works as my own sons or daughters,” Weerasethakul said. “If these offspring of mine cannot live in their own country for whatever reasons, let them be free. There is no reason to mutilate them from the fear of the system. Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue making art.”

Critics have raised question marks over censorship decisions concerning other Thai movies including “The Bodyguard 2″ and “Hor Taew Tak,” which employed crude language, expletives and rude behavior. The censors passed the films without cuts, and the movies were released on hundreds of screens. “Syndromes” is skedded for an outing on only two screens.

“This is beyond my expectation,” said the film’s co-producer, Pantham Thongsang. “The scenes they objected to are much less sensitive than scenes in many other Thai movies.”

Producer has appealed the decision, but will only learn the final ruling on Wednesday, one day before the pic’s planned release date.

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