It's no secret to folks who watch Kdramas that South Korea tends to be pretty hardcore when it comes to censorship. Sometimes things that are very inappropriate are censored (like nudity or disturbing violence on daytime TV). Other times, censorship can get sort of silly, and can be inconsistent.
One thing that I think we've all noticed being censored in Kdramas is smoking. South Korea has startlingly high rates of smoking, and while I doubt they censor cigarettes to help combat that, I wouldn't put it past the South Korean government to censor cigarettes to stop kids from getting into it. Only, that doesn't make much sense. Even if it's blurred, it's still something that is being put to character's mouth, and smoke comes out when they pull it away. If tons of people smoke in Korea, then children should be able to figure out really easily what's being blurred, in which case they aren't protected from anything.
I don't know if Misaeng was trying not to have to blur cigarettes, or if this next bit was purely for comedy. The show depicts the depressing, over-worked lives of Korean office workers, and their smoking habits... almost. Instead of blurring cigarettes whenever they appear, the writers make it so it's impossible for the characters to ever smoke them. More than once, someone goes up to the roof for a smoke, only to find that their lighter doesn't work, that they don't have one at all, that it's too windy, or that they're out of cigarettes. Sometimes they'll put one in their mouth, let it hang there for a second, then throw it on the ground. They'll even stomp out their unlit cigarette. Needless to say, I found this blurring-workaround really funny.
Then there are dramas like The Lover, which openly makes fun of the censorship of cigarettes. This drama is considered mature, and for good reasons. The amount of sexual content really surprised me, considering the Kdramas I'd seen before it. In this show, you get to experience the use of a glowing condom to find a lost earring, boob-grabbing, and plenty of innuendo. It's delightful. As if to show the absurdity of censoring cigarettes in light of the content in the rest of the show, whenever someone smokes, a large blur is placed over it. The show is rated 19+ anyway and it's on a pay channel, similar to HBO, so I definitely think this was meant as a joke.
WARNING: Coffee Prince spoilers ahead!
Coffee Prince is pretty chill most of the way through. Sure, it gets a little suggestive every once in a while, but it's all chill as long as our main characters don't have sex before they get married (according to my limited understanding of Korean society). Except, they do. Both pairings have sex in the series. Relationships, which are often portrayed as wholesome all the way through, are not in this show. Han Gyeol and Eun Chan spend a night together from episode 16 to 17, and Han Sung ends up getting Yoo Joo pregnant. Nothing too inappropriate is shown, but it's very obvious what went down.
This whole show was daring, but in a good way. The fact that it even aired at all, considering its gay (but technically straight, but not) plot, is impressive. Considering the unfortunate treatment of other dramas (like The Detectives of Seonam Girls' High School, which received warnings after depicting an innocent kiss between two girls), it's strange (and fortunate) Coffee Prince wasn't censored into oblivion.
Action dramas show plenty of shooting and fighting, but whenever knives are brought into frame, they're blurred. The drama in question here is Bad Guys. This show is violent, bloody and amazing, because it's not violent for the sake of it, but for an effect to make a point. Guns are everywhere. People get shot, or are almost shot plenty of times, and yet of all things to blur, censors chose the knives that thugs tended to use.
Guns and knives can both be used as deadly weapons, but only one of those things is ever blurred. I can see where this would almost make sense. Guns are almost completely inaccessible to South Korean people, so they would need to be “protected” from the draw of things that are easier to get, like knives. Except, none of it should be shown at all, guns or knives, and if they are, they're to be blurred, according to Rule 81, Art. 37 of the KCSC rules, which specifically mentions that graphic depictions of maiming or killing with firearms, knives, or other tools, or depictions similar to that, should not be on TV. Therefore, even if guns are hard to get in Korea, they should still be blurred or not used at all (according to the rules).
WARNING: Vampire Detective and The Three Musketeers spoilers ahead!
Vampire Detective also brought some startling violence to the table. There is one scene in which Kang Tae Woo threatens Yo Na with shooting himself in the head. She, along with the audience, doesn't expect him to go through with it, but he does. We hear the gunshot, we see his body jolt a little from behind, and then he falls, blood pooling around his head. According to the same part of the KCSC rules used above, anything implying the moment of suicide can't be shown. So, this scene shouldn't have made the cut. Its 15+ rating is permissive of there being a little bit of strong violence, but this depiction of suicide is still against the rules.
Finally, another bit of violence that actually made me chuckle can be found inThe Three Musketeers. I love this drama to pieces, but there is one unintentionally silly moment that I remember very well from the show. In it, we see a body that has been decapitated laying on the floor, sitting in a pool of blood. The head is nowhere to be found. This is all fine and dandy, except for the itty-bitty censor blur on the stump. I understand that it may be a bit startling to be flipping through channels, only to find a bloody stump in the middle of the screen, but if you're going to censor it, maybe mop up some of the blood and make the blur just a little bit bigger. It's pointlessly small, to the point of being humorous.
There are some situations that need to be censored, and others that don't. I don't watch American television much because it's often too sexual or too violent for me. This is why I watch so much more foreign media, especially from countries like South Korea, where things are a little more under control with the sex and killing. Though I'm thankful that the Kdramas I watch are relatively wholesome, I have to admit that the censoring can become a little ridiculous. If Oh Do Si is going to hump Ryu Du Ri, then do we really have to censor the cigarettes?
*Picture credit to Ask a Korean, who used it in this awesome article about censorship here.
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Thanks for reading!