|Illustration: Liu Rui/GT |
With the two sessions (NPC & CPPCC) in full swing and the government setting out future policies, it would be nice to hear plans for a reopening of the debate over a film rating system in China.
As it stands, China has no film rating system. Instead, movies are subject to the deliberation of the censors and will pass, be edited, or fail if they can't fit the extremely limiting "suitable for all ages" criteria.
The government did state in 2003 there were plans for a new system, but little has been said since. In the meantime, there has been a lot of public outcry: directors calling the system outdated, citizens baffled by the arbitrary nature of film censorship, and parents hoodwinked by the "suitable for all ages" tag.
A notable example of duped parents: the bloody drama Flowers of War was allowed into theatres in the Chinese mainland while it was rated R (18 or over) in the United States. When I saw the film last year, parents were frantically ushering their little ones out of the theatre when the graphic violence of the Nanking Massacre intercut with the relentless flirtations of sing-song girls couldn't be taken anymore.
But if this was a simple question of protecting children, then a film rating system wouldn't even be an issue. The complexity of the matter most certainly lies in the fact that a film rating system would allow for more daring cinema. Right now, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has its finger on the kill switch when it comes to what screens in China. Considering the rapid pace of change in this country, it's understandable that authorities would want to have a firm grasp on the control levers.
But maybe their grasp is just a little too tight. If box office receipts are any indication, Chinese audiences are less than enthused with Chinese cinema, and choose more often than not to see foreign offerings, notably American blockbusters. And if there is any group that truly has a reason to not want a film rating system in China, it's the American film industry. The 34 foreign films entering China each year are guaranteed the largest possible viewing audience by being deemed "suitable for all ages."
The current movie censorship system in China could even be accused of holding a double standard. American films screened in China are allowed to explore themes that Chinese films are still prohibited from doing. Could a film similar to Batman: The Dark Knight Rises pass the censors if it were a Chinese production? Probably not.
Why then is it okay to have a system in place that is holding Chinese cinema back while making it easier for American cinema to dominate the box office? It's obvious that audiences here crave cinema that is more challenging, and that Chinese directors crave the chance to freely make movies they feel are in line with modern Chinese values. A film rating system would give Chinese movie studios more latitude to make great cinema that can compete.
All in all, a rating system is long overdue. China needs to let its cinema mature to keep in step with the movie-going tastes of its people, or risks letting the US go unchallenged in that regard.