Who killed the movie rating system?

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It's not very often that you can pin the demise of a regulatory framework on a single, private individual. But YWeekend reports that China has no film rating system because someone in the government is nursing a grudge against Huang Jianzhong.

Film ratings were stopped by a phone call

by Lü Yuan / YWeekend

At this round of the Two Sessions, NPC representative Peng Fuchun and CPPCC member Gong Li once again submitted a recommendation for a film rating system. Actually, at the CPPCC session in March 2003, member and noted script writer Wang Xingdong had a proposal. Four years removed, nothing has come of that proposal. What is it that it difficult about this? Recently, noted film industry figure Hu Qiming disclosed to this paper that progress on the film ratings system was halted because of a phone call.

Were film ratings scuttled by a director?

Hu Qiming is chairman of China Vision Group and producer of the film Curiosity Kills the Cat.

Recently, he disclosed to this paper, "I once asked a former official from the Film Bureau why China still did not have a film ratings system. He said, this is 'blamed' on Huang Jianzhong. About three or four years ago a rating system was supposed to be established, but in the end, Huang Jianzhong pushed one of his films as China's 'first rated film.' After such a promotion, a senior comrade gave a phone call, asking, 'You want to do a film rating system? You want to show this kind of movie?' And things stopped after that."

Hu Qiming said, "At that time I was extremely upset. A system that the country ought to have was stopped because of a phone call? I said at thte time, you have no guts. If it were I, I'd have said, 'That's right, I don't want to let my 8-year-old watch that movie.' If the answer was like that, then perhaps the film rating system would already be in place."

During the time of this year's Two Sessions, Hu Qiming was not idle. He had CPPCC members turn in two proposals. One is a recommendation for increased punishment for pirating and has already been submitted by Liu Jianzhong. It received support from more than 30 other representatives, and GAPP head Long Xinmin signed his name in support.

The other proposal was another recommendation to establish a film rating system.

"China's first rated film" Rice faced two bans

So what movie was it that made the "senior comrade" so angry? Upon investigation, this reporter learned that the movie called China's first rated film was Rice, director Huang Jianzhong's adaptation of the story by Su Tong. This movie could not be shown for seven years after it was filmed; in March 2003, it finally made it to the screen. However, within a month it was suddenly banned from screening. The explanation given by the government was "distributors engaged in unhealthly promotion of this film." "However, in point of fact, there were no excessively sexual scenes in that movie," said an audience member who had seen the film.

Film ratings are not meant to stop "passionate" scenes

Many people within the industry have a mistaken understanding of film ratings. This is one of the reasons why putting out ratings has been delayed so long. Hu Qiming said, "When they bring up film ratings, many people believe that they will permit 'pornographic' depictions of sexuality, but this is not really the essential aim of the 'ratings system.' What a film rating system has most control over is not letting children watch movies for adults. For example, if an adult watches the movie Schindler's List, he will feel hatred toward the violence. Children, not necessarily; a child will have two different tendencies. One is fear, and the other is that he will learn violence. Today, are The Banquet and Curse of the Golden Flower movies for kids to watch?

Asked about difficulties absent "standards," Hu Qiming gave this reporter an example. "A director shot a film that showed in China without a single cut. But it couldn't be shown in Singapore and Malaysia because their film ratings have clear rules about what scenes cannot be shown and what language cannot be used, and these points can't be crossed.

Movie ratings being detrimental to management of imported films is just an excuse

"In January, a friend of mine attended a cinema workshop in Shunyi. She told me that a SARFT department head went to the rooms of each representative saying, we understand your calls for the establishment of a film rating system, but 'upstairs' has a directive saying 'Do not bring up the matter of film ratings anymore, because if there is a film rating system, it will be detrimental to the management of imported films.'

"After I heard this, I let loose with all of the Chinese and English dirty language I learned since I was a kid. What kind of logic is this? First, I do not concur with the argument of 'upstairs.' What 'upstairs'? Is there a name or a work unit? Why should the mistaken idea of someone without a name or work unit cause the entire Chinese film management system to be delayed for so many years? In addition, leaders should work to interpret this mistaken understanding by 'upstairs' rather than blindly following along. Or if you've got a senile old man at home who says he doesn't want to eat, then you won't buy food or make meals?

"Finally, saying that film ratings are detrimental to imported films is even more confused. China's got the WTO now, and it has detailed rules for the number of movies that should be imported every year, as well as a strict review system. We have lots of moves to use if we want to restrict imported films. This so-called reason has nothing to do with the establishment of a film rating system."

The 36-member censorship panel is not fixed, and they have no detailed standards

According to a Mirror report on 28 February, Chinese cinema currently engages in a film censorship system, and the committee of film censors contains 36 people. These members come from all industries, including a few notables such as professor Zheng Dongtian from the Beijing Film Academy's directorial department, old-school director Yu Yang, and Zhu Xiaozheng, head of the cultural office of the publicity department of the All-China Women's Federation.

"These 36 members are not fixed, and they currently have no detailed standards, so what they censor is never the same. In addition, the people who censor imported films are a distinct group from those who censor domestic films. Current circumstances are relaxed for foreign films but tight for domestic films. This is a rare situation internationally. China's film ratings could take their own form, but at the very least they should be released first and then adjusted; if there are any deficiencies then they can be changed at leisure. If this proposal makes it into the NPC deliberation process, then any unreasonable phone call from 'upstairs,' no matter what form it takes, cannot casually stop things," Hu Qiming said.

At present, the US, the UK, Canada, France, and Iran all have film rating systems. "In the US, films rated 'NC-17' (that is, no children under 17 may watch it) cannot be shown in major mainstream theaters. Their audience is thus much smaller, as is their box-office. If you want to change to an R rating (children under 17 may not watch it unless accompanied by a parent) or PG-13 (not suitable for children under 13), you must cut out some scenes to have more people see it."

What happens if theaters are discovered to have let in minors? "If there's evidence, then the country will fine the theater a lot of money; it will be very severe. Last year in Hong Kong there was a sixteen-year-old who put copied movies online. After he was caught the government fined his parents HK$2.7 million. If punishment is to break your legs, who's going to risk it?" Hu Qiming said.

Film Bureau leadership unwilling to give an opinion on film ratings

To confirm that the Film Bureau is unwilling at present to express an opinion on a film rating system, this reporter contacted an office at SARFT's Film Bureau. The staffer said that it would be best to ask his direct superior. So this reporter contacted Zhang Hongsen, vice-director of the Film Bureau. When he heard that the question concerned the developing situation of film ratings, director Zhang immediately said that he was not responsible for taking questions from the media, and invited the reporter to contact his office staffer.

* * *

Cuts to Babel have had people chattering about a rating system this week; Lao Huang closes a discussion of the theater and bootleg DVD versions of the film with the following:

This kind of movie may be good, but in the absence of a rating system, it should not be brought in. It is brought in at first like a priceless gem, but then out come the knives for the unavoidable castration. All is peace and prosperity in this something-something society. Why bring so much dissatisfaction to churn things up?

Serves you right.

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There are currently 2 Comments for Who killed the movie rating system?.

Comments on Who killed the movie rating system?

It seems Gong Li has been a busy lady at this year's lianghui.

Besides the anger one influential comrade feels towards a rating system, isn't it obvious that not establishing standards allows the authorities to whimsically censor films based on political content?

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