Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Blurred Knives, Do You Want Them?

Dear Korean,

I've started watching K-Dramas recently and now I have a question. What's the deal with blurry knives? (Imagine I said it in my best Seinfeld voice) When characters use knives as weapons they always mosaic the knife, but not when they are uses a tool (say in a kitchen). More curiously other hand held weapons (like say a gun) are not blurred. Even other bladed weapons (like swords) are never blurred. Why only knives? Why only when they are used as weapons? Have I just not watched enough shows to find the ones where this is not the case?

Brennan "Confused About Knives" Jordan

Short answer: the TV stations are following the regulations set by Korea Communications Standards Commission, which decides what may show up on television, and what may not. Rule 81, Art. 37 of KCSC Rules states: 
The following items, which may convey excessive shock, anxiety or disgust to viewers, may not be broadcast. There may be limited exceptions if such depiction is unavoidable in discussing the content; even in such cases, expression of these items must be approached cautiously.

1.  Graphic depiction of beheading, strangulation or dismemberment.
2. Direct depiction of the moment of suicide, or depiction that implies the method of suicide
3. Graphic depiction of killing or maiming with firearms, knives or other tools
4. Depiction of mangled corpse or body parts
5. Graphic depiction of killing of an animal
6. Other depictions that are similar to the above
The spirit of the rule is intuitive enough. Obviously, there has to be some decency rules as to what may or may not appear on television. But of course, application of any rules in the real world tends to be messy--especially when the rules are about expressions. In the American context, George Carlin described the absurdity in his infamous "Seven Dirty Words" bit. In Korea, blurring knives is part of the effort to comply with Article 37. There is plenty of inconsistency if one looks for it, but the same can be said about pretty much any application of the law. (Just think about how routinely people violate the speed limit without getting punished.)

But it is fair to say that the blurring can get a bit too patronizing. Such hyperactive blurring, in some cases, does limit the fuller depiction of reality. For example, the critically acclaimed 2009 drama Friend tracked the lives of Busan-area gangsters who grew up together as childhood friends. In order to create realistic fight scenes without getting caught in the blur machine, the showrunners studiously avoided having their characters wield actual weapons like a knife or a lead pipe. Instead, the show depicts them using household items, such as a wooden club that Koreans in the 1960s for laundry. But no matter--the censors still blurred the oh-so-harmless wooden club, causing annoyance with the viewers. 

Example of a cigarette being blurred. This tends to happen when a TV station shows a movie.
Blurring on Korean television can get hyperactive in other areas. Depending on how the censors are feeling, cigarettes are sometimes blurred. Product labels are usually blurred, unless they were specifically authorized to appear pursuant to an agreement for product placement advertisement. This can also get pretty annoying, as the types of products that the characters use can indicate their personality and their surroundings. But thems are the rules.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


    1. think they will start blurring out kimchi since it can be used as a weapon? :)

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      2. Oh look! A loan shark! Would harpoons attached to a lead pipe work with this one?

    2. I have a question about knives in Korean movies/TV. Why do they wrap them in newspaper when they're going to be used as murder weapons?

      1. It is for the news to spread quickly. ^_^

    3. Not only in Korean, but in my hometown Indonesia, they do blurring knives on the movie/drama. Thankyou for your information! :)

    4. Replies
      1. lol...that's all I was thinking. I love her! She's gorgeous.

    5. Welcome back! It's been too long. Still looking forward to the conclusion of the Most Influential KPop list!

    6. They even blur cigarettes in cartoons which are supposed to be watched by adult audiences as well.... While I caught Nobita's father in Doraemon (a famous family friendly cartoon series aimed at the children audiences) smoking blur-free.

      Censorship in Korea is so strict it can't even keep up with its own rules.

      Also, I felt like "facepalm" when a friend showed me in an interview with the Manic Street Preachers, the name of Sex Pistols have been changed to Beatles in the subtitles. Now that's faking information and disrespect for British art and culture. "Sex" itself is not a bad word, it can mean gender too, btw.

      Korea has certainly done good progress in the question of free expression, but there's still a lot of work to be done in this field too.

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. In my opinion, the most annoying would be when product labels visited the 'blur machine' especially in variety shows where the hosts' outfits would be censored for just this reason. For newcomers, one may think that the hosts are wearing shirts which contain the '4-letter word' on it. Besides that, in K-drama where everybody well know that the actors and actresses are using a Samsung phone. Due to the simple fact that they paste a black masking tape to every brand labels they see is some sort of irritating. I however, suggest that these lawmakers would instead give some leniency to the media. Some successful labels such as Samsung should instead be taken as a form of pride to Korea and its citizens while putting the agreement for product placement advertisement aside.

    9. I was watching KBS news, and they showed a woman's cervix, unblurred, full definition, but when Jay Park's on the tv his tattoos get censored.

      Granted, the cervix was shown to highlight an early detection method for cancer, but.. kinda felt like showing double vagina (!?!) Guess the US isn't the only country that treats women's reproductive anatomy like public property; free consumption for the public, no autonomy for the women. Bridging the cultural divide, 1 cervix at 1 time.


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