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2012: a disaster movie not suitable for children

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Chengdu Evening News
November 17, 2009

Today's Chengdu Evening News aims to stir up some controversy with a feature on the new disaster movie 2012, which opened last week.

"Should 2012 be stopped?" asks the headline at the bottom of the page.

Hong Jiantao (洪剑涛), an actor best known for his role in a sitcom about military cooks, had such a strong reaction to the film that he called for it to be pulled from screens. He posted the following to his blog at 6:21 in the morning of November 14:

When I finished watching the movie I regretted it, particularly for the additional mistake of bringing a child with me. This is a movie cooked up out of ancient rumors, so let's not discuss whether or not is finely crafted or impressive! Let's speak only of its social influence: it really is far too shocking. I've read reports over the past few days saying that the movie caused a panic — and even suicides — in some places it was shown. I didn't believe it, and thought all that was simply commercial hype. But ever since 9:30 last night when I finished watching the film, I haven't been able to get to sleep. I'll nod off for a few moments but then I'm startled awake by my dreams, which consist entirely of horrifying scenes. Overseas, this film would definitely be given a restricted rating, but our cinemas have not done that. Instead, they've been shouting all the way to the box office. They don't stop any children from watching. I'm an insider in this line of work, and I know full well that it's just a story and that everything on the screen is created on a computer, but I could still not help being convinced that disaster was really about to strike. Really, you absolutely cannot take children with you to watch this movie. A teenage girl sitting behind me was so scared she started crying, and my own palms were slick with a cold sweat. I advise the departments in charge of film to strictly limit the age of audiences who watch the film, and they ought to warn audience members with weak hearts to avoid going. Future generations should not have to face the future with hopelessness and decadence for the sake of a miniscule speck of profit. And the treatment of China in the film, both scenes and dialogue, were not friendly, and could even be seen as mocking. I home that my words may be echoed by netizens in general and reach the attention of the those in charge of film administration.

Although China's portrayal in 2012 has generally been seen as positive, the decision to make the country's citizens and military instrumental in a plan to salvage the remnants of humanity has also been interpreted as a cynical ploy on the part of the film-makers for a large box office in China.

Additionally, some critics have pointed out that China's role in the plot is to provide massive amounts of manpower in the form of unskilled laborers who not qualified to be saved on the arks they themselves help to build.

The newspaper report quotes a few sentences from a blog post by Tan Fei, a well-known film critic. Tan laughed off Hong's warning about the dangers of 2012 and put his own spin on the portrayal of the PRC:

Going to watch 2012 because it's positive about China is a little bit simple and naive, and it depreciates the People's Currency. All films that China screens promote the country, so why don't you go buy a ticket to one of them? Is it the domestic vs. foreign distinction? A foreigner may have given you a tiny compliment, but don't smile till your face falls off. That's the "love for kind words from foreigners" type. But it's not the only one. I saw on the blog of an actor named Hong Jiantao a call to stop screening 2012. He's a "fragile nerves" type. Take a look at Hong's rationale: everyone gets scared, their heartbeat quickens, and a teenage girl starts crying. Since China doesn't have a film ratings system, Hong decides to unilaterally classify 2012 as unsuitable for children. This all sounds very nice, and could help hospitals by reducing the number of coronary care patients, but it's actually a double standard. Are Curse of the Golden Flower, City of Life and Death, The Message, and Wheat, with their indiscriminate killing and torture, unsuitable for children, or is 2012? When those movies were screened, lots of children were uncomfortable and cried, so why didn't Hong stand up and say something? The fright from 2012 is basically that of a roller coaster, not the bungee jump that actor Hong describes. So before taking it off screens, you've first got to stop all roller coasters in amusement parks.

Tan concludes:

2012 is making money off of global disaster, and as a citizen of a socialist country, I oppose this purely mercantilist approach. But in this society, there are far too many technologically inferior commercial products who want to make money off of us. 2012 at least offers us many interesting things, leads to a lot of ideas, and extends a good deal of goodwill in exchange for our money, and for this we ought to be a bit more forgiving.

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There are currently 7 Comments for 2012: a disaster movie not suitable for children.

Comments on 2012: a disaster movie not suitable for children

Speaking as someone involved (not at all deeply) in the film, The Message is absolutely unsuitable for children. There are scenes there that are quite literally sickening even to those of us who've been thoroughly desensitized by Western media. A scene about 10 minutes before the end comes to mind.

I haven't seen 2012, but am unaware of any mainstream US movie in which -- oh, hell, let's spoil The Message; it's no good anyway -- there is a graphic depiction, complete with sound effects, of a woman being placed, bare-crotched, on a rough hemp rope and then having her legs pulled down and dragged along the length of it, complete with sound effects. There is certainly a historical basis for this, but just as certainly there is no reason at all to consider the film suitable for children.

A few volcanoes? Pah. Cowboy the hell up, unnamed and possibly imaginary girl sitting behind the blogger. Hollywood doesn't really do blood. Neither does America, for that matter -- its own war coverage would get a 'G' rating long before "all ages" films like The Message would.

Oh for gods sake, "ancient rumors"? "Cynical ploy?" "money off of global disaster"? Any more nitpicking?

2012 isn't a horror movie, it's barely even a thriller/action. I saw it, my young niece saw it, a ton of kids in the theater saw it, what's the big deal? Which scene is there to "cry" about?

I think Hong is just angry that a foreign film is enjoying so much attention.

I'll second the comment about The Message. Both for being a terrible, terrible movie and including the aforementioned torture scene that was unsuitable for children (and unwatchable for everyone else).

But I'm willing to give Hong Jiantao the benefit of a doubt. Maybe his goal is to get a rating system in China and he thinks pointing out the violence of foreign films is politically the best way to make that happen. Because no rational person could get exercised about 2012 and be nonplussed by what gets portrayed in some mainland Chinese films.

It makes me laugh. The movie should be be given a restricted rating? I think the problem is not the movie but the attitude and knowledge about cinema of an specific person. It's clearly a science fiction movie, and no one should see it in other way, unless one wants to be misleaded. Although I agree it's not the greatest movie ever, I suggest you have fun the next time. And please, leave the reality behind when you see a movie like this again. It's more than recommendable for not getting upset for what you call China's portrayal.

The diversity of opinion in here gives me more delight than the actual content of the movie in question. I beleive, open debate and expression of different views resonate the beating heart of a healthy soceity. I wonder, are we gradually moving away, although cautiously, from the symptomatic collective drowsiness resulted from the long winters of last half century? or are we seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Demonizing or glorifying China does not bother me either, but the different voices I hear here makes my day a sunny one, in a rainy Britain.

This movie is not scary. This movie is sad and depressing. And if someone didn't know that they went to see apocolypse movie then they are either stupid or ignorant. I would not let my 3 year old see this movie, or my 8 year old for that matter, but I'm sure that my 12 year old neighbor would love it. I said "holy shit" and "wow" and "that's unreal" a lot, but the only parts that really bothered me was all the focus on emotional stuff. They did a good job of getting you all pumped up from the disaster scenes, and then snipping back to the calm of the government officials, and then to the emotional reality of the people trying to survive. This kind of takes away your control over your own emotions. I was mad at them for making it so upsetting.
I walked into the movie expecting to get some variety to my apocalyptic dreams. Surely that night I had nothing but that the entire night, but sadly all the focus was on the emotional crap and it was mainly set in the "arc." All that emotion really overshadowed the cool disaster scenes.

And to add to my comment, it is certainly not as upsetting as some of the war movies. One that comes to mind is "Grave of the Fireflies." That one was a mind altering experience.

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