Buddhist Federation expresses concern over risque film at Buddhist film festival

Titled Suffering of Ninko, the film depicts a young monk struggling to stay virtuous despite young men and women being attracted to him.
Titled Suffering of Ninko, the film depicts a young monk struggling to stay virtuous despite young men and women being attracted to him.PHOTO: ASIAN SHADOWS

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF) has voiced concern over the inclusion of a risque film rated R21 in an upcoming independent Buddhist film festival.

The film, which features nudity and sexual scenes, does not "ring true to Buddhist practices", said the federation's president, Venerable Seck Kwang Phing.

Ven Seck said that from what he has seen of the film's introduction, the film is inappropriate for screening under the name of Buddhism as it does not introduce Buddhist practices.

Titled Suffering Of Ninko, the film depicts a young monk struggling to stay virtuous despite young men and women being attracted to him.

"Buddhism does not ask you to suppress or indulge in your desire," said Ven Seck, who noted that others in the federation were concerned about the film, too.

"It (the film) looks like it has got nothing to do with Buddhism. There is no Buddhist substance in it," he added.

Organisers of Thus Have I Seen (This) Buddhist Film Festival, however, has defended the choice, which is the first R21 film to be included in the annual festival.

They did so after Shin Min Daily News reported the controversy on Monday (Aug 13).

The chairman of the festival's organising committee, Mr Teo Puay Kim, said the news coverage and attention given to the film's R21 rating has distracted moviegoers from the film's main message.

The organisers wanted to use Suffering Of Ninko as a platform to discuss Buddhist teachings, especially in relation to the topic of desire, he said.

"The film uses Ninko as a character to represent someone who struggles between suppression and indulgence of one's desires. In Buddhist teachings, neither are appropriate and the key is to understand desire and its root causes in order not to be controlled by it," he added.

Audiences would also be warned about the film's mature content with the R21 rating, he said.

The biennial festival, introduced in 2009, features Buddhist-themed films to "encourage the Buddhist spirit of free inquiry", Mr Teo said, adding that films are chosen on their merit, not their ratings.

Some filmgoers welcomed the addition of the film to the festival, which will be held from Sept 22 to 29 at Shaw Theatres Lido.

Freelance film critic Paige Lim, 24, said she would watch the film as it has generated buzz at overseas film festivals for its experimental form and storytelling.

"I appreciate that the festival is being more inclusive and open-minded by considering other factors, like artistic merit, in coming up with the line-up," Ms Lim said. "It's always good to have alternative films that can help generate meaningful discourse."

Computer engineer Lin Rong Xiang, 36, a Buddhist, said he is interested in the film as it could help him understand more about how the Japanese practise Buddhism. The film is set in Japan during the Edo period, and the lead character is a Japanese monk.

"As long as its permitted by the Government, I won't say 'No'," said Mr Lin.