Thailand’s film ratings censorship-Asia Media Forum

March 25, 2009

THAILAND: New Film Ratings System Just a Rerun?
Lynette Lee Corporal
Asia Media Forum: March 23, 2009

In what perhaps is a taste of things to come, the gory Thai film ‘Chuead Khon Chim’ (loosely translated as ‘Carve Before Tasting’) has barely escaped being totally banned from public screening, thanks to the country’s new film ratings system.

Currently showing in theatres here, the film — with the English title ‘Meat Grinder’ — is about a mentally disturbed noodle shop owner who uses chopped-up human meat in her dishes. According to news reports, Thai censors thought that the film’s original title, translated into ‘Human Meat Noodles’, was too graphic.

Although the Film and Video Act of 2007 will officially take effect in May, films like ‘Meat Grinder’, which has a PG-13 rating in spite of its grisly plotline, are probably giving an early taste of what the Thai movie industry will be like once the new ratings system has been fully implemented.

The ratings system has seven classifications: General Audiences — no sex, abusive language or violence; ‘Promote’ — films that should be promoted on the basis of cultural or artistic merit; 13 — no violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures; 15 — some violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language or indecent gestures will be allowed; 18 — no exposed genitalia, crime or drugs; 20 — sex scenes are allowed but no exposed genitalia; ‘ban’ — films that offend the monarchy, threaten national security, hamper national unity, insult faiths, disrespect honourable figures, challenge morals or contain explicit sex scenes.

” ‘Meat Grinder’ was initially banned by Thai censors because they thought the movie would put the country in a bad light, given the presence and popularity of noodle shops here. Because of the ratings system, this movie is now showing in Thailand,” popular film director, producer and screenwriter Prachya Pinkaew told AMF.

A screenwriter and producer, Prachya is known for his box-office hit movies such as ‘Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior’, ‘Tom -Yum-Goong’, and ‘Chocolate’.

The Thai Film Directors Association president has also lobbied against the restrictive film censorship system under the Film Act of 1930, and was one of the directors included in the team that drafted the new regulations.

Prachya said he is satisfied with the new system and is, in fact, excited about it.

“I’ve been waiting for this for many years. I don’t think this is going to be a failure in the Thai setting. The same set-up has existed in other countries in the region and Thailand is almost the last country that is going to use a ratings system. No matter what, movies will be shown in theatres anyway,” said Prachya.

He added that his colleagues at the Thai Directors Association say the ratings system “will allow them to create their work however they want”.

Some quarters, however, question the “vagueness” of some category descriptions. The popular movie site has expressed doubts about the “no crime” criterion under the ’18’ classification.

“I am uncertain about the wording of the ’18’ classification. No ‘crime’? Really? None at all? That means that just about every movie that comes out can only be seen by viewers over 20, because just about every movie has some form of crime happening,” wrote the Bangkok-based journalist who goes by the pen name ‘Wise Kwai’.

The site also asks whether authorities will continue to implement the so-called ‘pixellation censorship’, where scenes like smoking and drinking are pixelised in order to discourage the public from taking up such habits.

“What about film festivals? Do all films shown by all the film festivals have to be submitted to the ratings board?” asked Wise Kwai in a Feb. 18 entry.

Even stronger is criticism about the ‘banned’ category, which naysayers find too sweeping and effectively defeats the purpose of a ratings system.

“The ‘banned’ classification is open to bureaucratic abuse. All in this classification are highly subject to individual interpretation and could easily be used to punish free thinkers as much as the current book and Internet censorship and lese majeste prosecutions,” said freedom of expression activist CJ Hinke.

Hinke believes that the new ratings system still reflects the “growing trend to unbridled censorship throughout Thai society” and is again one of the ways of “creating a new generation of Thais who are unable to form their own opinions”.

“The new classifications will serve to stifle Thai directors and producers who will be more concerned with a favourable ratings in order to sell movies rather than producing high quality, creative films,” said Hinke, a Thailand-based translator and book publisher who is also the coordinator of the Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT), an anti-Internet censorship group formed in 2006.

This, added Hinke, could result in a decrease in the number of Thai films that can compete in international film festivals.

Even when the new Films Act was being deliberated upon in 2008, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul wrote in an article for the Thai Film Foundation said that the new law “is not a step forward”.

“The insistence of (this agency) to keep the right to ban movies means they do not believe in the age-classification system. They also do not believe in allowing the people to learn from experience, because they are afraid youngsters will be addicted to pornography…,” said Apichatpong, who withdrew his 2007 film ‘Syndromes and a Century’ from commercial release in Thailand when censors demanded that four pivotal scenes be cut from it.

Said Hinke: “Film is one of the creative avenues for social change in society and deserves government support, not censorship.”

In defending the films ratings board’s inclusion of the ‘banned’ category, culture minister Teera Slukpetch was quoted by news reports in February as saying that a filmmaker can always lodge appeals regarding the body’s decisions.

“If the filmmaker believes a verdict is not fair, he can appeal to the National Film Board, chaired by the Prime Minister himself, or he can go all the way to put the case before the court,” he said.

Prachya agreed that the ‘banned’ classification can create problems. He said that while the part about offending the monarchy is clear, it remains unclear how the board will interpret what is offensive or harmful to national security and religion.

He predicts that the implementation of the new ratings system could be “hectic”, which could result in doubts and questions coming up repeatedly. “But in the future, this system should go well,” Prachya said on a hopeful note.

One Response to “Thailand’s film ratings censorship-Asia Media Forum”

  1. phegesque Says:

    I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

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