Thursday, March 26, 2009

The ratings system makes things worse


Although Thailand's motion-picture ratings act doesn't come into full effect until May, censors are already getting geared up to chop and cut films so they'll fit within the restrictions, according to an article at the Asia Media Forum.

Coming under the axe under this new system is the gory psychological thriller Meat Grinder. A story about a troubled beef-noodle vendor (played by Mai Charoenpura) who uses an ingredient other than beef, the movie was censored for national security reasons because authorities feared it would cast Thailand's beef-noodle vendors in a bad light.

According to AMF, Meat Grinder was supposed to be for audiences 13 years or older, but it still contains violence, brutality, inhumanity and bad language. Under the ratings that I've seen stated, it might be okay for 15-year-olds. But then Meat Grinder also contains what I consider to come under the vague heading of "crime", which is disallowed for even 18-year-old viewers.

So how are the age-restrictions decided? Arbitrarily, by the ratings board? Or by the filmmakers themselves? I'm confused.

The problem with the ratings law is that it is not an improvement over the old censorship regime -- not an improvement for filmmakers that is. For the bureaucrats with their scissors, Vaseline and pixellation software, it's going to be the happy time.

The ratings law merely codifies and legitimizes what the conservative cultural minders have been doing all along. Where there were no rules before, now there is a law, which states what can't be seen and what can't be uttered. It's all about restrictions. Nothing is permitted. And it's all so nebulous and open to interpretation, filmmakers remain at the mercy of censors.

The apologist for this new law comes in the unlikely person of Prachya Pinkaew, the producer and director of such violent action films as Ong-Bak, Tom Yum Goong and Chocolate. He was part of the panel that drafted the new ratings regulations, and he points to the fact that Meat Grinder was released at all proves that the system will work. He's quoted by AMF:

Meat Grinder was initially banned by Thai censors because they thought the movie would put the country in a bad light, given the presence and popularity of noodle shops here. Because of the ratings system, this movie is now showing in Thailand," popular film director, producer and screenwriter Prachya Pinkaew told AMF.

[...]

Prachya said he is satisfied with the new system and is, in fact, excited about it.

"I've been waiting for this for many years. I don't think this is going to be a failure in the Thai setting. The same set-up has existed in other countries in the region and Thailand is almost the last country that is going to use a ratings system. No matter what, movies will be shown in theatres anyway," said Prachya.

He added that his colleagues at the Thai Directors Association say the ratings system “will allow them to create their work however they want".

[...]

Prachya agreed that the 'banned' classification can create problems. He said that while the part about offending the Monarchy is clear, it remains unclear how the board will interpret what is offensive or harmful to national security and religion.

He predicts that the implementation of the new ratings system could be "hectic", which could result in doubts and questions coming up repeatedly. "But in the future, this system should go well," Prachya said on a hopeful note.

The article also quotes Freedom Against Censorship Thailand's C.J. Hinke:

The 'banned' classification is open to bureaucratic abuse. All in this classification are highly subject to individual interpretation and could easily be used to punish free thinkers as much as the current book and Internet censorship and lèse majesté prosecutions."

Hinke believes that the new ratings system still reflects the "growing trend to unbridled censorship throughout Thai society" and is again one of the ways of "creating a new generation of Thais who are unable to form their own opinions".

"The new classifications will serve to stifle Thai directors and producers who will be more concerned with a favourable ratings in order to sell movies rather than producing high quality, creative films," said Hinke, a Thailand-based translator and book publisher who is also the coordinator of the Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), an anti-Internet censorship group formed in 2006.

This, added Hinke, could result in a decrease in the number of Thai films that can compete in international film festivals.

Said Hinke: "Film is one of the creative avenues for social change in society and deserves government support, not censorship."

Of course, filmmakers could always appeal the decision of the ratings board to the National Film Board, chaired by none other than the prime minister, new Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch has pointed out.

Oh, that's just great. More bureaucracy. I'd like to see the Motion Picture Association of America change its appeals process so filmmakers take their appeal to the President of the United States, Congress and the Supreme Court!

Back in 2007, when the new film law was being drafted under a government formed by the military after a coup, Apichatpong Weerasethakul wrote an article blasting the process. I can't access the Thai Film Foundation's website at all, but thankfully via the Internet Archive, I can find his article (but only if I use Explorer). Here's an excerpt:

I strongly believe that government intervention must be removed from the activities of filmmaking and screening in Siam. I am ready to be bullied by the "arbiters" picked by the people in the industry, but I refuse to be bullied and raped by the so-called "protectors" appointed by the government.

[...]

I'd rather wait another few decades for a complete, fair and sincere law, than to accept something that promises us nothing but a fake kind of freedom. Despite our protest, the final draft of the new Film Act is likely to be the Ministry of Culture's version. We, the filmmakers, the Federation of National Film Producers, and theatre owners will in this life never see the promised Film Centre or Film Funding. This government will never give freedom to the people. We are making a pact with the devil. If you're reading this, prove me wrong and I'll kiss your feet.

After the law was passed, Apichatpong resubmitted his Syndromes and a Century for release, hopeful that he would be proved wrong. Before the law, censors wanted to cut four scenes. Under the new film law, they cut six.

I don't think there's going to be any foot-kissing happening anytime soon.

(Via Asia Media Forum and FACT)

4 comments:

  1. I've never been a big fan of censorship at all, and this instance only helps to reinforce my general dislike of the whole idea....

    Here in the US we have it pretty bad too, but at least we can still see films on DVD "unrated"... I'm hearing that this wont be the case in Thailand under this new law. Is that true?

    That's gonna make it even harder to track down any new Thai stuff I might like.... and that's always annoying....

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  2. I don't know what's up with DVDs. Some are censored, some are not. Maybe "director's cut" will be allowed on DVD or international release, but probably not, not when "national security" is at stake.

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  3. doesn't it defeat the purpose, make a mockery of censorship when you're worried about allowing a portrayal of your culture to people predominantly from your culture, and within your own borders? the real damage us done, if at all, when the film is shown abroad - and, as has been said, if America picks it up, an unrated disc can be released stateside. if censorship has an intended purpose, it's perhaps not as a way of dealing with such issues that are smallscale, but to deal with moments that can hit the wider public, surely?

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  4. I am trying to not get discouraged or dramatic about this, but it is difficult.

    What will be interesting is seeing how Thai films from high-profile directors hit the festival circuit. Many want to premiere their films overseas, and sometimes it's down to the last minute of completing the film before it is shipped off. Now we have a layer of bureaucracy and restrictions to deal with. Wonder how that will work?

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