Chinese Cinema Sets Its Own Ratings System as Scary Movies Frighten Kids

Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

China has no film ratings system, but there are growing calls for a national setup to protect minors

In the absence of a film classification system in China, a cinema in Xinjiang province has taken the bold step of introducing its own in-house ratings scheme to shield children from inappropriate movies after their childish cries of fear disturbed other cinema-goers.

Since Aug. 3, the Urumqi branch of the China Film theater chain has started rating movies shown on its six screens, including "G" (all ages admitted) or "PG-13" (parents strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).

China has no film classification system, and only films deemed suitable for all ages are released.

While censorship for political reasons makes the headlines, the Film Bureau also makes cuts to, or bans outright, films that are unsuitable for children.

Many in the local business believe that if there were a reliable ratings system, it would allow more leeway on the censorship front, giving filmmakers more scope to make better movies.

The policy has been applied after a number of younger viewers were driven to tears of terror by Raymond Yip’s The House That Never Dies, a 3D ghost story about a haunted house on Chaoyangmen Inner Street in downtown Beijing, which has supposedly been haunted since the Communist Revolution in 1949.

The wailing children disturbed other viewers, the theater owner told local media.

Movies about the supernatural and horror movies were banned for many years, but censorship has been relaxed as the government tries to encourage different local filmmakers to make different kinds of movies that are more popular with viewers.

Apparently the rating is also supposed to stop children from getting in to see Tiny Times 3.0, Guo Jingming’s tale of love and shopping, which has been compared to Sex and the City without the sex.

“Our cinema is located in a residential area, which means more children are brought here by their parents, especially during summertime when kids are on a two-month vacation,” Yao Lin, executive manager of the cinema, told local media.

Yao also said it had not been easy to rate films because “there were neither legal grounds nor operational approaches.”

Ticket sellers reported there was outrage among parents trying to buy tickets for The House That Never Dies. “But as we put up more boards advertising the new rule and included the rating of each film on the LED screen, most parents showed their understanding and support,” said one member of the staff.

Zhang Hao, a customer waiting in the foyer of the cinema, told local media: “My 11-year-old boy has begun to imitate inappropriate actions from cartoons he saw on TV, let alone motion pictures on the big screen.”

With China’s quota system restricting the number of foreign movies set to ease because of World Trade Organization rules, more imported movies are likely to be introduced to Chinese audiences. Yao said it was therefore more important than ever to set up a rating system to guide parents.

Many in the film business have long hoped a film classification system would be introduced, as it would bypass the need for censorship.

In October last year, a survey showed that more than 90 percent of Chinese filmgoers support a ratings system or film classification system.