SINGAPORE - Film-maker Eric Khoo's erotic drama In The Room, which premiered at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) on Tuesday night, currently cannot be shown in cinemas in Singapore.
The Media Development Authority (MDA) did not classify it for a commercial release, even as it passed the film uncut with an R21 rating for its SGIFF screening. Festival films are given more leeway than commercial releases.
This was revealed by Khoo and the movie's producers at a press conference on Tuesday (Dec 1). Without even an R21 classification, the most restrictive possible, the film is barred from commercial release here.
Khoo, 49, says he refuses to release the work in an edited form for the sake of a rating.
The film was classified R21 uncut for the SGIFF. More leeway is given to film festivals as they play to a niche audience and have limited screenings.
On Wednesday (Dec 2) night, an MDA spokesperson said, "In consultation with the Films Consultative Panel, MDA had deemed two scenes in the movie 'In The Room' to have exceeded our classification guidelines for sexual content.
MDA informally advised the distributor that the film could be classified R21 with edits for commercial release. However, the application was subsequently withdrawn. As such, MDA has not officially classified the film for commercial release."
In The Room, directed by Khoo and written by Jonathan Lim and Andrew Hook, consists of six short stories taking place over different decades in room 27 in the fictional Singapura Hotel.
Dedicated to the late author Damien Sin, it features a pan-Asian cast and a screenplay inspired by the soft-core works of the 1970s, such as The Story Of O (1975) and Emmanuelle (1974), but with references to moments in Singapore's cultural and social history.
The film's cast includes Hong Kong actress Josie Ho, Malaysian Lawrence Wong and Choi Woo Shik from South Korea.
Ms Shi Nansun, one of its producers, said on Tuesday: "This is a film about Singapore, and we would very much like to release it here. Eric, as director, does not feel that his vision will be demonstrated properly if it was released with cuts."
The film will get a commercial release in Hong Kong in January next year and was screened at festivals in Toronto and Busan earlier this year.
Khoo confirmed that the MDA's concerns about In The Room centred on its explicit depictions of sex, rather than on its themes. His team plans to make an appeal to the authority in the coming weeks.
His first feature, the arthouse film Mee Pok Man, was also controversial when it was released in 1995, but was passed with an R(A) rating without cuts.
His last brush with the censors took place in 1994, when his short film Pain was banned for depictions of torture. The ban was later lifted.
Since then, he has gone to become one of Singapore's most internationally recognised film-makers, through socially realistic dramas such as 12 Storeys (1997) and Be With Me (2005), which was selected for the Director's Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2005.
Khoo says : "It's sad... there's nothing really that contentious about my film. If I were to censor it, it would go against my principles as a film-maker."