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Blockbuster Revives Call for Film Rating System

The summer holiday film season might be drawing to a close, but China's moviegoers, not content with the likes of Star Wars and Mr and Mrs Smith, are hankering for another reason to pack the cinemas. War of the Worlds, Steven Spielberg's latest flick just might be the answer. Or is it?

The new sci-fi adventure film, starring Tom Cruise, is scheduled to premiere in major Chinese cities on August 25. But before film buffs scramble to get their tickets to watch humans have it out with Martians, they have to keep in mind the rating that the film's distributors here have given it.

Distributors have gone out of their way to say that the film is "Unsuitable For Children", that is, children should only be allowed to watch it under parental guidance.

According to Huaxia Film Company, the movie's Chinese distributors, the imported version of the 120-minute movie survived the censorship process by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), China's film watchdog, uncut. They added that some of the violent scenes and its theme, likely to be construed as negative, might not be suitable for children.

"The movie is rated PG-13 in the US, and I think children should watch the movie accompanied by their parents,"  Teng Jun,  a film distributor, said after a recent private screening for mainland distributors.

A PG-13 rating in the US warns parents of the unsuitability of the content for children under 13 years of age and strongly advises parental guidance.
Huaxia Company said the rating was not imposed by the government, which means that distributors and movie theaters have cannot refuse entry to children or minors.

The lack of any real rating system in China is a problem. As far as industry insiders are concerned, they believe that the film's producers made the specific request for War of the Worlds to be rated in China.

Foreign films that have been screened uncut, including Saving Private Ryan and The Day After Tomorrow, reportedly made children cry, inciting complaints from concerned parents.

"If something goes wrong (with a film's acceptance by mainland audiences), it would be an unimaginable blow to the foreign film industry," a member of staff at a foreign film company said. He only gave his name as Chen.

Film ratings systems around the world differ. Often given in lieu of censorship, some countries like Australia have a system developed by an official government body. Others, like the US, have a system that is developed by the industry and on a voluntary basis.

Although there is no real ratings system in China, SARFT filters and decides which movies, both local and foreign, make it to the big screen.

In 1988, Wang Jin's Widow Village had the honor of being the first Chinese movie to incite a proposal to ban children from watching it.

However, the "Unsuitable for Children" rating over the years has been increasingly used as a publicity stunt rather than a well-intentioned piece of advice.

China has been importing foreign films since the 1990s in an attempt to resuscitate the stagnant local movie industry. But despite a rising import quota, Chinese moviegoers have been denied many titles, including A.I (Artificial Intelligence) and Minority Report, because of the lack of a comprehensive rating policy.  

"The movies we import have to be appropriate to both the old and young, which greatly reduces the selection range," according to the China Film Group.

Filmgoers and experts have been calling for a rating system to protect children, general audiences as well as filmmakers. But it wasn't until March 2003 that the issue was actually raised. At the time, screenwriter Wang Xingdong proposed that movies be rated in one of three ways: all ages admitted, only 15 years and over admitted, and 18 years and over admitted.

The following year, SARFT issued a new rule stipulating that in principle no more crime-related movies or television shows would be imported.

It wasn't until January 2005 that the issue was brought to light again when Tong Gang, the head of SARFT, said at the First Chinese Film Directors Association Awards that a rating system would be introduced by the end of 2005, to be written into law in 2006.

(China.org.cn by Li Xiao, August 22, 2005)

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