Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thailand's film ratings still on the way

Although Thailand's new film-rating system was "officially" to go into effect on June 1, there has been an apparent delay in its implementation.

In cinemas, it's business as usual, with no notices about the ratings system posted anywhere. Nor do movie ads and posters bear any marks that would indicate the films are being rated.

From what I understand, there is a delay in bureaucratic procedures at the ministerial level. I haven't heard a set date for when when the system will become known to the general movie-going public. I'll admit I'm somewhat anxious to see what it's going to look like and how it will be promoted.

An article today by Channel NewsAsia's Thailand correspondent Anasuya Sanya makes it clear that the Culture Ministry eventually plans to let the public know what the films are rated, both at cinemas and for home viewing. And filmmakers are still unhappy. Here's a snip:

Chaweerat Kasetsoonthorn, secretary general, National Culture Commission, said: "With a rating system, the audience, especially parents, can decide on appropriate movies, both in theaters and on DVD, for their children. I think it's even more satisfying to the audience - they can determine which rating is right for them."

But filmmakers like Nonzee Nimibutr are not so sure, since the Thai government still retains the option to ban films outright.

He said: "If we have a rating system, there is no need to also ban films... The new law is still as vague as the old one. It's not clearer. There is still room for ‘double standard’. There can be different criteria for each movie."

The Culture Ministry refutes this and says the ratings can serve directors well when they are making a movie.

Chaweerat Kasetsoonthorn said: "In fact, the rating system is even better for the filmmakers, since they now have guidelines. They can make a movie that will suit the audience or age group they want (to attract)."

That's some pretty strong "yeah, but" double talk from Chaweerat, who doesn't address Nonzee's points about the law being unclear.

Yes, the filmmakers at long last have guidelines. Fine and dandy. But there's still censorship. Films can still be cut and banned if they are deemed to be inappropriate for vague reasons of "national security".

Also, bureaucrats and special-interest groups outweigh film-industry figures on the ratings panel.

For audiences, the ratings that will most effect them are G, for general audiences, and the age restrictions: 13+, 15+ and 18+, indicating the minimum suggested age for viewing. There will be no ID checks for these films, according to an earlier article by the Bangkok Post's Kong Rithdee.

They are recommendations. Friendly guidelines. Smiling, happy film ratings.

An additional, rather harsh 20+ rating is not a mere suggestion -- it's a frowny-faced you'd-better-be-20-or-else rule -- there's supposed to be ID checks for those, and penalties if the law isn't followed.

I have a feeling there won't be many 20+ movies shown in Thailand. Those that are, will be controversial or at the very least, limited releases, similar to the NC-17 rating in the U.S. There might be some directors who will overtly try for the 20+ rating, just to drum up publicity. But I think such attempts will be frowned upon by peers and critics.

A concern I have is whether Thailand will following the example set by the ratings systems in neighboring countries -- Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, which are actually much more strict with films than Thailand.

So what I am bitching about, right? Sigh.

Well, anyway, for example, a film that's rated R in the States, for viewers 17 and older with a parent or guardian, might get cut down to say an NC-16 in Singapore after tweaks by censors to tone down the sex, language (yes, language, for Christ's sake) and violence.

Is Thailand going to start watering down foreign releases too? Under the censorship system, there has been blotting out of naked behinds and genital regions and pixellation of axe blows and spattering blood. But the censorship practices have never been consistent. Sometimes the films are censored, sometimes they are not. Under the ratings, there should theoretically be no reason for any more of that pixellation or cutting nonsense.

There's also that weird P rating, which Anasuya's article doesn't address -- probably because it's so damn confusing anyway. That's P for "Promote", or as I suspect, P for "Propaganda". These are films that will be promoted for all Thai people to see. I don't know what the criteria for such films would be, or who makes the decisions to put films in the P category.

Enough for now. I'm heading to the cinema, to see unrated films while I still can.

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