Ratings bust

Risque 'Curse' revives debate about classification system

The joke doing the rounds in China these days is that 2006 started with one “steamed bun” — a reference to “The Steamed Bun Murder Mystery” online spoof of Chen Kaige’s “The Promise” — and ended with two steamed buns, in this case, a nod to Gong Li’s dramatically eye-catching decollete in Zhang Yimou’s “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

China has been taken aback, and in many cases delighted, by the sight of Gong’s embonpoint during “Curse,” but the pic’s slightly risque elements have also prompted renewed debate about the need to introduce a ratings system.

The China Daily newspaper complained that there were no warnings for parents who took their underage kids along to the cinema “to support the domestic film industry.”

“A note of warning in the film’s posters and publicity trailers could have saved the parents from unnecessary embarrassment and their children from unwanted exposure,” ran the story.

As it stands in China, either everyone gets to see a movie, from babies to retirees, or no one does. Without a film classification system, there is no middle ground, and while a ratings system has been mooted for many years, it looks like it will be a long time before one is installed.

“There should have been a warning. But it’s not a must in the country because we don’t have a movie ratings system,” Yin Hong, deputy dean of the school of journalism at Tsinghua U., told the newspaper.

Ding Yunxia took her 5-year-old son to the cinema to see “Curse” and had to keep covering his eyes with her hands.

“I told him to do so with his own hands but he wouldn’t,” she says. “I’m not sure how much of those shiny white breasts rubbed off on his eyes.”

China is traditionally conservative, even prudish, about sex in cinema, though there are few restrictions on depictions of violence. In 2004, the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television said China would introduce a ratings system based on China’s legal framework, not on foreign countries’ templates, but there has been no advance on the issue since then.

China’s filmmakers believe a reliable film classification system would clarify the parameters of censorship, allowing for more risks with content and story, and ultimately woo bigger auds and boost the biz.

The lack of a film classification system means the only tools at the censor’s disposal are cutting entire scenes or simply banning a movie, both drastic steps when one considers script approval has already been given once a movie is in production.

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