S. Korean theater chain pulls film on sinking of warship
September 11, 2013
SEOUL — Anonymous complaints and threatening apparently have succeeded where court maneuvering failed, blocking the widespread release of a film that suggests North Korea was not responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship three years ago.
“Project Cheonan Ship,” a 75-minute documentary about the March 2010 incident, disputes South Korea’s claim that a North Korean torpedo was to blame for the deaths of 46 sailors. It says the Cheonan may have collided with a reef and then a submarine, according to news reports.
Megabox, the only major South Korean theater chain to show the movie, pulled it from screens just two days after it opened on Sept. 5. A spokeswoman said the company received a number of angry phone calls, and some viewings were plagued by disorderly behavior.
“Many families come to our theaters on weekends, so we were worried about safety problems,” she said. The spokeswoman said the company had not been pressured by South Korea’s military, which has strongly criticized the film since it was first shown at a festival last spring.
Chung Ji-young, the film’s producer, called Megabox’ decision “utterly absurd” and said he believes pressure from “powerful people” was the real reason it was pulled.
“If Megabox was really threatened, they should have contacted police and asked for police protection before they stopped showing the film,” he said.
A South Korean-led international investigation team that included U.S. experts determined that a North Korean torpedo sank the ship, even putting a rusted torpedo — emblazoned with what it claimed were North Korean markings — on display during a news conference.
However, speculation persists that the government’s story was cover for an accident or an intentional sinking of the ship to shore up support for Seoul’s North Korea policy.
Chung said it’s possible that Pyongyang was behind the sinking, and his movie only attempts to show that the government did not provide enough evidence to support the torpedo conclusion.
“I don’t know what happened. Am I a scientist?” he said.
Last month, a group of five South Korean navy officers and relatives of the sailors who died filed an injunction to prevent the film’s release, claiming it damaged their reputation and spread false information. The Uijeongbu District Court last week rejected the injunction.
Still, the Ministry of National Defense continues to maintain the film should not be shown. Spokesman Kim Min-seok called it “fiction.”
“Showing this sort of film is deluding people,” he said Wednesday. “Even though there is freedom of expression, this film must not be shown because it does not prove anything.”
The movie is still running at a handful of small independent theaters, including the Arthouse Momo in Seoul, which has received no complaints or threats, according to one staffer. She said the few screenings have been near-sellouts, possibly because so few theaters are showing it.
“The movie itself is becoming an issue,” she said.