Among the most heatedly discussed issues about the Chinese film industry in 2004 was probably the absence of a film rating system -- claimed to be a vital part of the upcoming China Motion Picture Industry Promotion Law.
The law is expected to offer a legal basis for a wide range of issues that plagued the local film industry including copyright infringement, online piracy of films and pirated films in such forms as VCDs, DVDs, and most recently the so-called compressed DVDs.
"The film rating or classification system is very common for film producers, distributors and exhibitors worldwide, as many countries and regions adopted such systems decades ago," said Li Ershi, a Chinese film historian with the Beijing Film Academy.
"The Chinese public and film industry have long called for the establishment of such a law," he added.
Over the years, Chinese films have been put into categories according to its subject matters such as rural, military, industry or urban themes.
On March 1, 1989, the former administration of the Ministry of Radio, Film, and Television issued the Circular Concerning the Examination and Rating System for Certain Films that roughly specified four types of films as "unsuitable for child audiences."
The regulation was first applied to a controversial film entitled Widow Village (Guafu Cun), which features some love scenes and nudity.
But this rating system didn't work very well in protecting child audiences at local level.
Over the years, it has often been reported that some unscrupulous film distributors and exhibitors even label some films as "unsuitable for child audiences" in a bid to attract curious viewers.
Since 1994, China has introduced many Western blockbusters, many of which were rated "PG" for "Parental Guidance" in the United States but shown in Chinese cinemas without any disclaimers, especially for teenagers or younger children, because China does not have a film rating system, Li said.
In mid-December last year, Film Bureau chief Tong Gang declared China's first ever film rating or classification system is expected to come out this year, as a vital part of the China Motion Picture Industry Promotion Law.
Tong said: "The legal framework of the law has already been laid out and the legislative draft is expected to come out in 2005 and be put on the nation's legislative agenda."
The rating or classification system will be implemented to regulate various genres, including imported films, screened on the Chinese market, he said. It will help protect the minors and boost international co-operation. But he noted China will not copy Western style motion picture rating systems blindly.
"Beside protecting the legal rights of younger audiences, I hope any law will create a favourable climate for the healthy growth of Chinese film industry," said Zhu Yongde, director of China Film Promotion International, who is also preparing for the establishment of China Motion Picture Copyrights Protection Association.
Beginning on December 22, 2004, China has enacted a 17-article judicial interpretation on IPR-infringement criminal cases, materializing the legal principles in the previous IPR-related laws, with its first seven articles dedicated to the explanation of categories in the Criminal Law on IPR infringement.
Focusing on lowering the bar for dealing with such breaches as crimes, the interpretation makes it easier to mete out deterrent punishment for IPR violations.
Still, Zhu hopes the law will more effectively bolster law enforcement on copyrights infringement and movie piracy.
He also proposes that a screen quota system should be part of the law to protect home-grown films from what is happening in the newly emerging movie industry giant of Republic of Korea.
(China Daily January 6, 2005)