Problem with Korean Film Ratings
Problem with Korean Film Ratings
  • reporter Park Jee-won
  • 승인 2019.11.08 15:03
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▲Still photography of Korean film “PARASITE (2019)”
▲Still photography of Korean film “PARASITE (2019)”


During a parliamentary audit of the Korea Media Rating Board (KMRB) by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Oct. 17, it was pointed out that the KMRB judges violence and selection of movies and other video clips with an overly lenient yardstick. Citing the movies “Joker (2019)” and “PARASITE (2019),” which were judged to be 15+, ruling and opposition party lawmakers criticized that the rating of the KMRB’s decision on the ratings was far from the public’s perception.
The boundary between “rather-high” and “high” that separates 18+ and 15+ is persistence and specificity, according to the KMRB’s rating system. Persistence means how often brutal scenes of torture, abuse, etc. appeared. Specificity means how direct and blatant the violent scenes have been portrayed. According to the KMRB the murder scene in “Joker (2019)” was described in detail as a scene in which the main character committed a murder, but it did not meet the persistence of the movie, so it was judged as a 15+. However, the actual level of fear, level of violence and imitative risk that audiences feel in theaters are different from the perceptions of the KMRB.
As there are no explicit criteria concerning the subject matter is involved, the controversy over equity with other films often arises. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood(2019),” which was released 18+, showed brutal scenes such as a dog biting a man’s arm and genitalia for nearly 10 minutes in the second half of the drama, which was declared “high” in terms of violence and horror. In the “My Movie Rating” section, which is rated by audiences on KMRB’s website, the film is rated as a 15+. In response, the KMRB only conveys the answer, “KMRB is making judgments based on the overall context rather than on numerical criteria for persistence and specificity.”
The gap between the audience’s perception and film ratings has been widening since the launch of the seventh KMRB in February last year. “The Witch: Part1, The Subversion (2018)” received the 15+ for being a fantasy subject even though the film is about a high school student killing people one after another. “Brightburn (2019)”, which received an R rating in the U.S., also received 15+ with the judgment that it is acceptable with knowledge and experience acquired by those above the age group over fifteen, although there are many elements of gore such as having glass penetrated in a character’s eyes and jaws broken.
As the KMRB explains, “It is also important to accept and develop diverse changes reasonably as consumers’ perception and understanding of video expressions are also expanding along with social trends,” the tendency to be lenient in portraying sexual scenes and violence is a problem that cannot be recklessly judged by right and wrong. A number of movie critics also express their position that the government should move toward placing importance on freedom of expression in terms of art. 
During the parliamentary audit, Representative Lee Sang-hun said, “The movie rating classification, which people do not sympathize with, should not be as it is,” adding that more systematic, specific, and objective criteria and arguments are needed. In particular, stricter standards should be introduced, such as drugs and patricide, which are highly illegal materials.
“KMRB is currently working on a quantitative checklist based on our own research. KMRB is investigating and analyzing films by 15+, and KMRB will come up with more objective ways to classify films.” Lee Mi-yeon, the chairperson of the KMRB, said.