Cinemagoers, be warned: the blockbuster sequel Kingsman: The Golden Circle won’t be playing in a theatre near you after all, with government officials yanking the action flick from the Kingdom’s screens over an allegedly negative portrayal of Cambodia deemed unacceptable for local audiences.
The light-hearted romp chronicles a fictitious British secret spy organisation that teams up with its American counterpart to find a drug lord’s secret base – which just so happens to be in Cambodia. Once discovered, a showdown between the villainess (Julianne Moore, with Elton John, playing himself, as her hostage) and the titular agents (Colin Firth and Taron Egerton) ensues against the computer-generated backdrop of a temple surrounded by jungle.
In an interview yesterday, Bok Borak, deputy director of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ Film Department, said the decision to ban Kingsman was made last week.
“After we reviewed the film we found some problems,” he said. “They used the Cambodian land – the temple – as the place where the terrorists stay and make trouble for the world.”
While noting that the location or name of the temple isn’t specified, he said it resembled Ta Prohm – which was famously used as a set for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
A major point of concern, he said, was the clear reference to Cambodia as a location in which the fictional villains are living and producing drugs. Tomb Raider, in which the protagonist steals an artefact from the Angkorian temple, was deemed acceptable because Cambodia was portrayed in a romantic light.
“It’s about the wonder, the secrets . . . It’s not about a bad guy who wants to destroy the temple,” he said.
Simon Choo, the distribution director at Westec Media, which purchased the local distribution rights for the film, took issue with the ministry’s reasoning.
“I think it’s a very childish or immature decision,” he said.
Two weeks prior to the ban, he said, Westec had already requested edits to be made to the film according to the ministry’s feedback, Choo said. To his knowledge, last week the ministry didn’t review the newly edited film, which removed explicit references to Cambodia – though the fight scene at the temple complex could not be taken out. Subsequent calls to the ministry went unanswered by press time.
“We even blocked the name Cambodia and the name does not appear anywhere,” Choo said, adding that the decision was overly sensitive, especially since the plot is entirely fictional. “Every movie cannot be depicting Cambodia as heaven . . . You need to face the reality that all countries have criminals.”
According to Borak, the film is not the first Hollywood production to be banned this year, but unlike the others it wasn’t nixed over depictions of excessive violence or sexuality.
While the ban applies to cinemas, and eventually DVD sales, Borak conceded the movie “will flow into Cambodia [anyway] by YouTube or Facebook” and other streaming sites.
Westec will be refunded by the studio but, according to Choo, generally the move is “not good” for the industry, and cinemas licensed to carry the film – Legend, Major, Platinum and Prime cineplexes – “were all disappointed”.
Moviegoer Chheangmeng Thay, 24, also found himself disappointed yesterday, agreeing with Choo’s assessment that the authorities were too sensitive.
“Look at other countries that even joke [about] their president,” he said, going on to add that the exposure the film gave – even if negative – could bring filmmakers, tourists and other sources of income to the Kingdom.
“If we are open more there will be more big film [companies that] come to feature Cambodia, [and the] government could generate more revenue.”