SHANGHAI — Lackluster B.O. figures and complaints from many of China’s top helmers have prompted China’s film legislators to take the idea of film classification seriously for the first time. In the past month, several members of the Natl. Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference have called for a movie classification system that would distinguish between films for general audiences and those whose content is unsuitable for children.
Representatives of the China Film Group — the business wing of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) — also have recently suggested that China’s movie industry would be given a boost by the establishment of film ratings.
Such calls have been common for at least 10 years, but what differs this time around is tentative support from SARFT itself. China’s current film examination system censors or bans films based on their potential impact on society as a whole — including children, meaning that scenes of sex and violence are rarely seen in the cinema.
Zhang Yimou, many of whose early films were initially blocked from general release on the Mainland, was recently quoted in the China Daily as saying: “It is impossible to shoot a film that meets the demands of people aged from 10 to 70. If some part is unsuitable for 15-year-olds, do I have to make more changes?”
In 1987, Zhang’s “Red Sorghum” was released in overseas markets as a certificate 18 or 16 because of its portrayal of excessive brutality by Japanese soldiers, and the sexual relationship between leading characters. In China, the award-winning film was shown in special screenings to primary and secondary schoolers.
Likewise, Zhang’s B.O. hit “Hero,” which was generally a PG equivalent overseas was open-house in China, where authorities have traditionally been reluctant to legislate in areas seen as matters for the parents to decide.
The issue has come to a head in recent weeks, however, with the release of Huang Jianzhong’s “Rice.” The film was banned for seven years (Variety, March 31-April 6, 2003) because of its bleak vision of the country’s rural masses and several scenes of nudity and violence. Having petitioned for the film’s uncut release for so long, Helmer Huang is keen to point out that “Rice” is aimed at an adult audience, and has called for cinemas to clearly indicate the some of the content is “unsuitable for children.”
Academics have been quick to join the fray. Shao Mujun, a professor with the Chinese Movie Critics Assn. recently went on record as saying that the domestic film industry would suffer if directors had to continue making films that were acceptable to both adults and children.
Sources at the Film Bureau in Beijing — which has the final say on all pics released on the Mainland — recently suggested that several censored films would have been cleared had they been able to apply a ratings system.
Stanley Kwan’s “Lan Yu,” blocked because of its depiction of gay sex, and Sun Zhou’s “Zhou Yu’s Train,” which was trimmed of its most excessive love scenes, were cited as examples.
Chinese producers insist they need more artistic flexibility to be able to beat the recent slump at the box office. If a ratings system were introduced, it would be a sign to foreign studios, too, many of whom are wary of applying for clearance for their more adult films.