Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coming in June: Film ratings

The Film Act of 2007 provided for Thailand's first-ever motion picture ratings, and a ministerial regulation to implement the film classifications is currently being written and will be rolled out in June.

Just to recap, the Thai motion-picture ratings will be:

  • P - Film should be promoted for all audiences.
  • G - Approved for general audiences.
  • 13+ - Restricted to viewers aged 13 and above.
  • 15+ - Restricted to viewers aged 15 and above.
  • 18+ - Restricted to viewers aged 18 and above.
  • 20+ - Restricted to viewers aged 20 and above.

There are a number of problems with this.

Skipping the "P" category for a moment, why the big gap between G and what is essentially the PG-13 rating that is used in the US? Why no "PG"? Very few films any more ever fit that "G" rating, with the lowest most studios aim for being PG. I guess in practice under the Thai system, G and PG films would be combined, and most films made in Thailand would aim for this broad classification, or at the most 13+.

Next, you'll see the the tightly tiered age restrictions, which have been variously stated as U-13, U-15, etc., or PG-13, PG-15 or R-13, R-15, etc. It'll be fun to see what the ratings are officially translated as in English, and what cute graphics are going to be supplied to go with them.

But what criteria make a film a 15+ versus a 13+? What's the difference between an 18+ and a 20+? Why is 20+ even needed? If you're old enough to get married, be drafted into the military and vote, why can't you watch a film in the cinema? Again, what are the criteria, and will they be transparent?

Now getting back to that problematic "P" category, which has been stated to mean "promotion". "P" could also mean "propaganda", and is presumably for films that fan nationalistic fervor such as Suriyothai, Naresuan and The Overture, but it could also be applied to a film that enshrines religion, like The Life of Buddha, or the monarchy, like The Seed.

In his Saturday column on the Bangkok Post's editorial pages, Kong Rithdee offered his view of the "P" rating (cache):

I tentatively call [the rating] "P" -- for Promotion, not Prude -- an awkward, unusual label designed for films that deserve to be promoted to the society because of its content. For instance, a historical Thai movie that shows a lot of grisly beheadings and senseless murders of national enemies in the 16th century could get the "P" rating, and everyone including young children should be encouraged to see it because of its historical and patriotic values.

I've heard there is a lot of confusion over the "P" rating, with the academics who are drafting the regulation having some strange ideas about just what should be promoted. Seems they think the ratings board might have some subjective ideas of what films might be deemed classics or groundbreaking, meaning a foreign film like The Matrix could get the "P" code. Weird. It's not just a content rating -- it's a critical rating, like "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

There's also a lot of confusion over how the ratings system will work at the cinemas. Kong has more on that in his column:

What's not clear right now is how the ratings and filtering will be enforced. As it is understood, theatre staff at the box office will check the IDs of customers before letting them buy tickets, like at night clubs. But since nobody has seen the Ministry Regulations, it's not certain whether the age classifications are simply a guideline for parents and multiplexes, or are actual legal restrictions with punishment clauses. Will there be policemen standing guard or making rounds inside the cinema to surprise under-age law-breakers? It's rumoured that the ID check will be carried out only with the 18- and 20-plus movies. But if, say, a 19-year-old wants to see Rambo 4 with his father, will he be allowed to go in? And if not, why? Because when he goes to an election booth, a process more detrimental to his mental health, he doesn't have to bring his dad in there with him to tell him which box to tick or which politician is a thief.

I feel itchy about the 20-plus rating -- itchier and sadder still that the new Film Act still has the cutting and banning provisions. Hardly any country in the world restricts access to cinema for its 20-year-old people -- except, well, Singapore. What's very funny in the Thai law is that the 20-plus rating will not be applied to those who have reached their legal age of consent by marriage. So if you're a 17-year-old girl who's already married, you can breeze into the theatre to see a 20-plus film, supposedly because since you've already had sex, nothing else can shock you. Just remember to carry your wedding certificate as proof.

This is all very frustrating to watch unfold, because the Thai authorities could have been learning from the mistakes made in other ratings laws, such as the U.S., where the Motion Picture Association of America operates in secret as a quasi-government authority that doesn't make clear its criteria, and, being an industry-supported body, tends to be harsher on independent films than ones from the big studios.

But that appears to be the model that has been embraced by Thailand's authorities, perhaps even with encouragement from the MPAA. It's as if the regulation's drafters sat down to watch Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, and instead of seeing it as a cautionary tale, decided that the way the MPAA does things seem like a pretty good idea.

Additionally, I've been shown at least one Thai media report -- I can't remember what newspaper it was -- that is hailing the new ratings law, saying "no more censorship", which is quite untrue -- censorship and banning of films by the government remain part of the formula, so even with a ratings guideline in place, the censors will still be wielding their scissors, ready to cut scenes they deem harmful to Thailand's image or the sensibilities of viewers.

(Photo: A film projector at the National Film Archive from the Thai Film Journal Flickrstream)

1 comment:

  1. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this new ratings plays out and what this means for Thai filmmakers who have had to "adjust" their films.


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