BEIJING — In China, either everyone gets to see a movie — from toddler to teen to pensioner — or no one does. In the absence of 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. Filmmakers in China believe that if the censor’s hyperactive and often arbitrary scissors were replaced with a reliable ratings system, helmers and producers could take more risks with content and story, which would ultimately woo bigger auds and boost the biz.
The censorship process also takes a long time, meaning there can often be a hiatus between a pic’s international bow and its Chinese preem, giving pirates ample time to flood the market with good DVD copies of the movie for impatient filmgoers.
China’s censorship boards are composed of many diverse schools of opinion — from rural women’s groups to Communist Party leaders — and it is always easier to just say “no” when the opinions start to differ.
Which leaves both domestic filmmakers and audiences with major problems.
Foreign movies also feel the lack of a classification system: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” ran into problems in China because of scenes of cannibalism and ghosts, which are considered unfit for children, but the blanket ban means everyone, both young and old, is blocked from seeing the pic.
Independent producer Jimmy Wu has been on the wrong side of the censor on many occasions. During the development process of his most recent pic, “Curiosity Kills the Cat,” a lab technician confiscated some of the negatives, believing the sex scenes went too far. After an exhaustive process of cuts, the film was finally given the go-ahead.
Wu believes a ratings system would give essential clarity about what can and cannot be shown. Plus, he wants the China Film Bureau to give clear lines on censorship.
“The Film Bureau’s four directors have helped us from beginning to end, and without their help, this would just be an underground film,” Wu says. “I have been lobbying for a law that tells us what scenes we can or cannot include.”
Li Shaohong, helmer of “Baober in Love,” says that, increasingly, there are signs of more openness at the Film Bureau, which she hopes can translate into a useful classification system.
“What is important is to define the margins of what’s healthy, of what images we can use. There is a need to push the Film Bureau to introduce categories rather than censorship,” Li says.
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.
“Often we are looking forward to a movie, then they say it didn’t get the censor’s approval. It just doesn’t seem right to us,” one moviegoer says. “Movies in the United States are rated, and I think we should have that here too.”