Thailand's National Legislative Assembly passed the controversial Film Act in a last gasp flurry of bills before a new government is elected.
An eight-month-long campaign by local film professionals to end censorship went unheeded. The new law stipulates a rating system which still gives the state the right to ban a movie and prevent its release in the kingdom.
The rating system is made up of "P" (films that are of educational value, "G" (suitable for all age groups), and age restricted categories 13,15,18,20.
The previously mooted 25 age category did not make the final bill.
Notably, the Film Act authorizes the state to forbid the release of movies that undermine or disrupt social order and moral decency, or that might impact national security or the pride of the nation.
Another controversial point is the article that sees the country's chief of police join the National Film and Video Committee. Previous drafts of the law did not include the police as members of the rating committee, though historically the
police have chaired the film censorship board.
To implement the rating system, a supplementary law will have to be written to cover operational aspects. But it's not clear when the system will actually be implemented in Thai theaters.
Thailand's new Film Act will go into effect on June 4. And though nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to the Culture Ministry, moviegoers should brace for the historic introduction of the rating system, which is likely to be accompanied by
confusion and clamour.
The Film Act was actually passed last December, but the Ministry Regulations, the practical rules that will implement various provisions of the law, are being written by the scribes at the ministry.
When the new law is applied in June, each movie, Thai and foreign, will be assigned one of six ratings:
G (fit for all age groups)
''P'' an unusual label designed for films that deserve to be promoted to the society because of its content. For instance, a historical Thai movie that everyone including young children should be encouraged to see it because of its historical
and patriotic values.
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. 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.
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.
The long wait for Thailand's first film rating system will continue for at least another few months.
The ministerial regulations on audience age restrictions have not yet been finalised. The rating system had been due to start in June, as stipulated in the Film Act passed by the National Legislative Assembly in December.
The sub-committee has finished drafting the regulations, but we will have to submit it to the cabinet before they become effective, said Somchai Seanglai, the deputy permanent secretary for culture.
Under the Film Act, the Culture Ministry will replace the police as the body that oversees theatre screening of movies.
The law specifies six ratings: G (fit for all age groups); 13-plus; 15-plus; 18-plus; 20-plus; and a special "P" rating for films that deserve to be promoted to all audiences. The authority will retain power to cut or ban films.
The rating committee will comprise government officials, academics and film industry representatives.
The Thai Culture Ministry has finally finished drafting film rating regulations for all movies before they are released in theatres. The regulations will be forwarded to the National Film and Video Committee and the cabinet for approval. They are
expected to be put into force next month.
Under the proposed film rating system, movies will be grouped by age. Classifying audiences will give film directors the opportunity to fully express their creativity, said Somchai Seanglai, ministry deputy permanent secretary.
Since films will only be screened before the appropriate age group, movies will no longer be cut or censored, he added.
Once the regulations come into effect, movie theatre operators will have to inform their customers about a film's rating, Somchai said: And if staff allow in people who are not supposed to see a movie, the operator will face at
least a one-year jail term or be fined up to 100,000 baht [£1650], or both.
The ratings regulation will also be applied to DVDs and VCDs, which will display the rating on their packaging.
The draft of the film rating regulation divides movies into seven categories, including violence-free movies, movies that should be promoted to all audiences, movies for people with a minimum age of 13, 15, 18 or 20, and films that are banned for
containing content deemed insulting to the monarchy, national security and moral decency.
Starting this May, film-rating system will come into effect in Thailand for the first time.
The Cabinet has just approved four draft regulations on the system.
We should be able to enforce the regulations from May onward, Culture Minister Teera Slukpetch said.
Thailand's system will classify films into 5 age groups, plus a category for films that should be promoted on merits of cultures, arts or traditions. And of course there is the ever popular option to ban a film entirely.
Thailand's first film-rating system will be up and running in May after the Cabinet approved four draft regulations.
Films that authorities deem to offend the monarchy, threaten national security, hamper national unity, insult faiths, disrespect honourable figures, challenge morals or contain explicit sex scenes will be banned from Thai screens.
The ratings are:
General Audiences This category is for films with no sex, abusive language or violence.
13 This category excludes violence, brutality, inhumanity, bad language and indecent gestures.
15 The '13' rules are relaxed slightly.
18 Films can explore the darker side of human nature but must not show scenes of exposed genitalia, crime or drugs.
20 Sex scenes are allowed here but only if viewers don't get a peek of genitalia.
There is an extra category for films that should be promoted on cultural or artistic merit
Thai Film Director Associa-tion chairman Yongyoot Thong-kongtoon said the regulations would give a framework for film directors. One positive side is that it might encourage less low-grade comedies and more movies with substance, he said.
Director and producer Prachya Pinkaew, who sits on the panel that prepared the draft regulations, said he was happy to see the system sail through the Cabinet. The regulations have been dogged by criticism since they were first unveiled.
A year after the new film-censor law came into effect, ten movies were banned from theatres, including Frontiere , Halloween , Funny Games , Zack and Miri Make a Porno and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane , as
they were deemed violent and against good virtue, a senior official at the Culture Ministry revealed.
Director of the misleadingly named Film and Video Classification Office Pradit Prosil also urged movie theatres to apply for operation licences by September or face up to 1 million Baht in fines.
Pradit said that the new Film and Video Act 2008 has been in effect since June 2008 but its five subordinate laws were delayed and had just been all approved by the Cabinet, leading to many problems. However, since it came into effect, ten mostly
foreign films were banned from being screened in Thailand because most of them had violent and amoral content, he said. He cited a film about a male house guest who later killed the homeowner as an example that went against the Thai value of
Pradit also said the 2008-issued ministerial regulations on theatre licences came into effect from July 27 this year, so operators must apply for a license within 60 days. He warned that those who failed to meet the deadline might be subjected to
a fine ranking from Bt200,000 to Bt1 million and a Bt10,000 daily fine until the theatre obtains a licence.
The Thai film classification system has now been running for one year.
Thai movie Namtal Daeng , or Brown Sugar , promises that the story will be about sex, and perhaps love.
Brown Sugar , an ensemble of three erotic tales by twenty-something directors, has passed the rating committee with an 18-plus classification _ and without a cut. In the actual film, yes, you'll see women's nipples, the whenever-wherever
seduction, and the simulated love-making.
Two months ago, Sukit Narin released his racy, cleavage-obsessed Pu Ying Ha Babb 2 (Sin Sisters 2). Five women recount their sexual experiences and reveal the upper part of their bodies (some using stand-ins). The film was also passed
without a cut, but with a 20-plus classification, which stipulates ID check at the entrance. Sin Sisters 2 was later re-edited to make it milder and was released on VCD and DVD, with an 18-plus rating.
The issue at hand is apparent: Are Thai films ready for sex and explicit titillation? Has the much-derided rating system opened up new possibilities for filmmakers to show things _ and organs _ that couldn't be shown on the big multiplex screen
under the old censorship law? Breasts, sure. Penises, yes. Masturbation, why not? People bobbing and moaning, quite okay, too.
Beyond flesh, what about sensitive politics, crooked politicians, bad cops, charlatan monks, southern unrest, Islamic issues, or a cinematic prime minister announcing a State of Emergency _ will those be allowed to show on the big screen as well?
By law, breasts go under the 18-plus category and no ID check is required. Penises, 20-plus. Simulated sex is either 18 or 20, depending on the intensity. But when it comes to violence or disturbing visuals, the rule isn't so clear.
Last year, a Thai independent movie showing clips of the Tak Bai incident was banned from showing at a local film festival. Earlier in 2010, action film Suay Samurai was ordered to cut a scene showing gunmen opening fire into a mosque, or
facing a ban. A horror, Haunted Universities , was also instructed to delete a shot alluding to soldiers shooting at students during the Oct 14, 1973 demonstration.
For now, it seems that flesh and passion have found a leeway to the big screen. It's possible now to see local breasts in the multiplex _ it's well known that the censorship has been more lenient with non-Thai nipples.
Without the new rating system, I don't think it would have been possible to make a film like Brown Sugar , said Prachya Pinkaew, advisor of the project: With the old censorship system, the investors didn't dare put the money in a
film like this since it could face a ban, and directors didn't want to risk doing a movie that would be cut.
The first Thai film to be slapped with a 20-plus grade was an arthouse drama, Jao Nokkrajok , or Mundane History , earned for a scene showing a naked man trying to arouse his own penis in a bathtub.
If sex has received a green light, the next boundary to push is politics. No matter how conservative Thai authority can seem when it comes to flesh-flashing movies, they can be even more reactionary and paranoid when politics is served up in
films. Hardly a Thai picture has touched on the hot waters of politics, despite the fact that this is the period in history where politics is most inseparable from Thai life.