Horror Film May ‘Destroy’ Buddhism, Activists Warn

A scene from the forthcoming horror film 'Arbat,' which has incensed Buddhist hardliners for depicting a novice monk engaging in forbidden behavior.

A scene from the forthcoming horror film ‘Arbat,’ which has incensed Buddhist hardliners for depicting a novice monk engaging in forbidden behavior.

Khaosod English
23 September 2015

BANGKOK — Buddhist hardliners urged the Ministry of Culture today to censor an upcoming horror film that shows a Buddhist novice behaving in ways they find offensive.

The film, “Arbat,” comes from media giant Sahamongkol Film International and is scheduled to open 15 Oct. According to the film’s promotional materials, its plot revolves around a 19-year-old boy forced by his parents to enter the monkhood in rural Thailand, where he develops a romantic relationship with a local teen girl.

Satien Vipromha, leader of a group called Academics for Buddhism, said the film’s plot is blasphemous because monks and novices are not supposed to have romantic interests.

“It’s blasphemy to Buddhism,” Satien said. “Although our group has not seen the entire film, judging from the trailer, there are some scenes that risk destroying Buddhism, such as scenes of the novice touching a woman’s cheeks, or the monk pulling a woman into his residence.”

Satien said he and representatives from four other secularly organized Buddhist groups submitted a letter today asking the Ministry of Culture to block the film’s release.

The Supreme Sangha Council, Thailand’s appointed defenders of the faith, have made no statement about the film.

Satien told reporters the studio horror-drama could irrevocably shake the public’s faith.

“It’s better to prevent a problem than fixing it, because if some scenes slip out to the public eyes, it may become impossible to restore their faith in Buddhism,” he said.

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Asked whether he believes the film is worse than the frequent instances of monks and novices violating doctrine in real life, Satien said filmmakers should consider the impact their movies may have on society.

“You have to be careful in exposing some issues to the public, because it may affect the [religious] institution or national security,” he said.

Buddhism is the de facto national religion of Thailand, where more than 90 percent of the population identifies as Buddhist.

Culture Minister Vira Rojpojchanarat said the film censor board will deliberate on “Arbat” on 7 Oct., one week before the film’s release. The board will consult with experts on Buddhism and issues about women and children in their consideration of whether to greenlight the film, he said.

“If this movies has indeed touched on sensitive issues or matters related to religion, the Ministry of Culture will have to take care of it,” Vira said.

All films are subject to scrutiny by the Ministry of Culture’s censor board before they are released in Thai cinemas. The board has a record of censoring films on the ground of religious sensitivities and national security.

In 2006, the censor board ordered Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul to cut scenes depicting a monk playing guitar in his film “Syndromes and a Century.” Apichatpong refused and withdrew it from domestic release.

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