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‘Austin Powers’ Faces Censors

June 21, 1999 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Imagine hearing Austin Powers, the International Man of Mystery, as he purrs: ``Shall we shiok now or shall we shiok later?″

Shiok? It’s gotta be dirty, right?

Actually, it’s Singaporean English for ``treat nicely.″

That’s the tamer translation censors in that country wanted for the hipster’s trademark term ``shag,″ which is a British obscenity for sex.

Objections from foreign censors have complicated the international release of ``Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,″ which is packed with graphic sex jokes, double-entendres and, of course, the S-H-A-G word.


Singapore officials wanted to change the title to ``The Spy Who Shioked Me,″ even though ``shagged″ means ``tired″ in local lingo. Malaysian censors aren’t happy either, said Rolf Mittweg, head of international marketing at New Line Cinema, which released the comedy.

Malaysian censors ``decided we are not allowed to use the word ‘shag,’ and want to change the title to ’The Spy Who Dot-Dot-Dot Me,‴ Mittweg said from his Los Angeles office.

Even after censoring, Malaysian officials say they expect to rate the sequel ``18-SX,″ which grants access only to adults.

The filmmakers are trying to come up with various replacements for ``shag″ because state censors in Indonesia, Egypt and South Korea are also sharpening their scissors, Mittweg said.

``We don’t want the movie to sound too vulgar, but also it can’t be too soft,″ he said.

In Britain, where the term originated, The Sun tabloid reported Thursday that theater owners plan to remove the subtitle from marquees when the movie opens here in July and plan to just call it ``Austin Powers II.″

``It would be wrong to put something like that up in cinemas where children are coming in,″ Barry Jenkins, chief executive of the ABC Cinema chain, told The Sun tabloid newspaper in London.

American filmmakers and foreign censors have repeatedly clashed over the difference between funny and taboo in recent years as the international market for films expands into countries with strict obscenity regulations. Blockbuster U.S. films often make more abroad than they do in North America.

``There is always the fear now that some sort of government censorship will step in and ruin the intent of a movie. That’s more of a fear than foreign audiences not getting the jokes,″ said Paul Dergarabedian, a film industry analyst with Exhibitor Relations Co. Inc.


When the gross-out comedy ``There’s Something About Mary″ opened around the world last year, 20th Century Fox also struggled with foreign censors who balked at scenes of a dog being electrocuted and a teen-ager accidentally snarling his genitals in a zipper.

Mittweg added that New Line ran into similar trouble with ``Boogie Nights,″ a graphic 1997 film about a group of 1970s-era pornographers.

However, some fans steadfastly oppose sacrificing any part of Mike Myers’ amorous, snaggletoothed superspy. The censors in Singapore lifted their ban on the title after local newspapers were flooded with letters objecting to the ``shiok″ substitute.

Mittweg said the makers of ``Austin Powers″ have issued a booklet explaining the jokes to translators, such as when the spy tries to seduce a go-go dancer by growling, ``I put the ‘grrrr’ in swinger, baby!″

Without the lexicon, for instance, ``shag″ could be translated in French as ``tapis a longs poils,″ which means ``carpet with long hairs.″

Dergarabedian predicted most of the humor in the film would tickle rather than offend international audiences because the sex jokes are largely innuendo.

Austin Powers is certainly naked as he prances through an upscale hotel in the film’s opening sequence, but the spy’s private parts are perpetually obscured by foreground props such as a child’s pinwheel, cooked ham and, as a last resort, the film’s credits.

``That’s the joke,″ Dergarabedian said. ``Who has the dirty mind? Is it the filmmaker or the audience?″