Acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is withdrawing his latest film Syndromes and a Century from theaters in response to local censors' demand for four cuts in the film.

The film, which premiered at Venice last year and recently won best editing at the inaugural Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong, was scheduled to open in Bangkok on April 19. The limited two-print release would mark Thai-language film magazine Bioscope's first foray into film distribution.

'The board of censors fails to recognize the idea of freedom of speech,' says Apichatpong, who refuses to cut the film. The four scenes requested to be censored involve a monk playing a guitar, two monks playing with a battery-operated flying saucer, a doctor kissing his girlfriend in a hospital's locker room and a group of doctors drinking alcohol in a hospital basement.

Thailand has long been criticized for the absence of a film rating system. Apichatpong questions why many other Thai and foreign films which contain excessive violence, nudity, coarse language, crude jokes on other ethnic groups and monks doing stupid things, did not suffer the same fate.

'The current board needs to be evaluated. A rating system without censorship should be established a long time ago,' he says.

The censors now refuse to return the print that Bioscope submitted for fear that the full version will be screened without permission although it has been made clear that the theatrical release has been pulled off, according to the magazine's editor Thida Plitpholkarnpim.

Meanwhile, Singapore has banned Zahari's 17 Years by Martyn See, which is deemed 'against public interest.' It is also an offence to possess the film, a local documentary consisting of interviews with former journalist Said Zahari, who was detained for 17 years.

Singapore's Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts said in a statement that 'the film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal' and is 'an attempt to exculpate himself [Zahari] from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.'

Last year, See received a ban on his documentary Singapore Rebel about Singapore's opposition party leader Chee Soon Juan.