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Politically censored S. Korean films to be released online

Korean Film Archive exhibits state-censored films, 10,000 related documents

A document orders the suspension of screening for 1965 film “The Seven Female POWs.” (Korean Film Archive)
A document orders the suspension of screening for 1965 film “The Seven Female POWs.” (Korean Film Archive)
The Korean Film Archive announced that it will sequentially post a collection of South Korea’s earlier films censored by the state through the Korean Movie Database online history archive center, starting Thursday.

The KOFA received donations and preserved some 10,000 materials regarding censorship from the Korea Council for Performing Arts Promotion, the predecessor of the current Korea Media Rating Board, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s. In the past, the materials had only been available by visiting the Korea Film Archive’s library and had not been revealed online.

It is a rare case to have records of the country’s censorship and related administrative documents in such vast quantities dating back more than 40 years. The decision to release the materials online was made to allow easier access to not only film researchers and experts in the industry, but also the general public.

The first collection uploaded focuses on renown director Lee Man-hee’s censored films, which includes 47 of his 51 productions. Lee’s films such as “Late Autumn” (1966) and “The Road to Sampo” (1975) show the state’s intentional and direct efforts to control the nation’s arts and culture scene.

Each document contains relevant censorship content in chronological order, including production reports, scenarios, trailers and screening reports of the piece. It also includes documents of administrative censorship procedures. The documents total 2,519 pages.

Director Lee Man-hee, 1931-1975 (Korean Film Archive)
Director Lee Man-hee, 1931-1975 (Korean Film Archive)
A case of a sudden order of screening suspension by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency can also be found in documents regarding one of Lee’s films, “The Seven Female POWs” (1965).

The film had previously passed the Ministry of Culture and Public Affairs’s censors, but was abruptly barred by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency. In February 1965, a year after the incident, Lee was arrested on charges of violating anti-communist laws for the first time in the Korean film industry.

The KOFA expects the censorship data collection to serve as an essential archive for the reconstruction of Korea’s film history and popular culture in the future.

By Kim Hae-yeon (
Korea Herald daum