By Yoo Seungki
SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- A documentary film raised questions about the 2010 sinking of a South Korean navy warship. Seoul's Defense Ministry concluded that the ship was torpedoed by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) but the film challenged the conclusion, exploring alternative explanations such as the ship running aground on a reef. "Project Cheonan Ship," directed by a South Korean filmmaker Baek Seung-woo, provoked controversies, including a legal dispute. When it was first shown in April at an international film festival, the movie drew strong backlash from the Defense Ministry. Three naval officers and two representatives of a bereaved families association filed for a court injunction in early August to ban the documentary's general release.
A day after the court rejected the injunction call, the film opened at more than 30 theaters nationwide on Sept. 5, but the flick was pulled from 22 theaters two days later by Megabox, one of major cinema chains. The number of theaters screening the movie dropped to 4 following the withdrawal, but it rose to 13 later. It compared with one of South Korean blockbusters shown at more than 1,200 theaters.
The Megabox said that viewers' safety may be put at risk as some conservative groups had threatened to stage protest rallies outside cinemas screening the movie, but it declined to identify who the conservatives were. It was the first case in the country' s film industry that a movie is pulled from theaters for political reasons. "The profit-pursuing film distributor pulled the well- selling movie for unconvincing reasons. This is the message of disdaining the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech," Baek Seung-woo, the film's director, said in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.
The documentary drew audiences of more than 2,300 for the first two days of opening, ranking first at the box office of art-house films. As of Tuesday, those who watched the movie was 18,403, said an official at Aura Pictures, the production company of the film. The official expected the number to top 20,000 within this week, equivalent to 2 million viewers of commercial blockbuster movies.
Baek said that he felt cramped while directing the movie as only raising suspicions about the official conclusion on the Cheonan sinking was seen as an act of support for the DPRK. It exposed the rigidness of the South Korean society, the director said, noting that the film sought to mirror such pictures of the society.
The movie was based on a motto of doubts being a starting point of communications in a society. The 75-minute documentary cast doubts over the Defense Ministry's report one by one, featuring experts who opposed to the ministry's conclusion that the 1,200- ton naval corvette was sunk by the DPRK submarine's torpedo attack.
The Cheonan ship went down in waters off the Baengnyeong Island near the western sea border with the DPRK on the night of March 26, 2010. At the very first time, local media outlets and the Defense Ministry saw a low possibility for the DPRK's involvement in the incident, which claimed the lives of 46 sailors. Then President Lee Myung-bak sought to take cautious position on the sinking, urging the public to wait until the final conclusion would be reached.
The mood abruptly changed after the joint investigative team, including the United States, Britain and Canada, concluded on May 20, 2010 that the DPRK's submarine staged a torpedo attack against the South Korean warship. "The investigation was expected to take more than a year to be completed, but the results came just one and a half months later," said Baek. "This was an incident which no expert can explain in a short period of time as it was the only case in the world that a warship is broken into two pieces in coastal waters."
Baek wondered why the film, which challenges the official declarations, should be prevented from being screened in such a democratic society as South Korea, saying that dissenting views should be provided freely even though the official conclusion was true.