Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ratings system considered by Cabinet

Thailand's Cabinet is considering two bills that promise to mark the beginning of a new era in the country’s film industry through the introduction of a rating system that may make censorship a thing of the past, The Nation reported.

Vice Minister for Culture Veerasak Khowsurat explained that a new National Film Policy and Planning Board (NFPPB) would issue guidelines and rules about the rating system, with detailed explanations of how the movies should be rated.

Seats on the NFPPB are to be shared equally among three parties: filmmakers; film viewers; and civil servants, academics and media members.

Veerasak said the bills would also require the establishment of a Film Promotion Fund, which would encourage research and development in the film industry.

Thailand has no ratings system for films. It relies on the Censorship Board, set up under 1930s legislation, in which a board of police officers and other officials view the films and snip offending scenes with scissors or cover naughty bits with Vaseline.

At various times, the censorship was heavily applied to Western films, as well as Thai films. I remember a sudden cut in crucial but carnal love scene between Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry in the theatrical screening of Monster's Ball but in the past year or so I have not noticed many scenes being cut or smudged in imported films.

Thai filmmakers, on the other hand, tend to practice self censorship, to avoid having their work held up by the Censorship Board. Recent films that came under the board's scrutiny include Nonzee Nimibutr's Jan Dara, which had explicit sexual themes, and Bandit Rittakol's The Moonhunter, which was political in nature.

While I think that any regulation that provides a much-needed update to the 1930 censorship law is a good thing, I wonder if ratings will really change the way Thai films are produced?

And it's not just Thai films. All directors in the studio system are encouraged to pander to the biggest common denominator -- mainly the treasured 18-34 demographic.

In the US, NC-17 ratings are generally avoided, as they are too restrictive in terms of audience. So the films are toned down in violence, drug-use and sexual themes to make them rated R, PG-13 or even PG. The result is films that are homogenous, dull and forgettable.

So rather than a draconian government board wielding power, it is industry itself, dumbing the films down to make a buck. The filmmakers themselves have to fight a more formidable foe in expressing their art. Their enemy is the system itself.

Within the confines of that ratings system, a few decent films emerge each year. And in Thailand, where the film output is miniscule compared to Hollywood, the number of truly great films will continue to be just a trickle of one or two a year, maybe even less frequent.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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