BEIJING, August 9 (Xinhuanet) -- As long as movies are officially approved for release in cinemas, they are supposed to be suitable for people of all ages. Or are they?
The latest blockbuster, "Aftershock," set during the 1976 Tangshan earthquake that left more than 240,000 people dead, has stirred a debate among parents whose children were scared -- not moved - to tears during the movie.
They have complained that the film's distributor should have warned parents of close-up scenes of people being crushed by collapsing houses, limbs littering the ruins, and trucks laden with corpses.
The complaints have renewed calls for reform of China's film approval system, in which all movies to be released must be approved by the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT). Many critics want a system like the one in Hong Kong, where movies are classified into three major categories in terms of suitability for children.
In Hong Kong, "Aftershock" was rated II-A, similar to a PG-rating in the United States, which means some material may not be suitable for minors and parents should make inquiries before allowing their children to view it.
"No movie is suitable for everyone to watch, but that doesn't mean we can therefore block the release of some movies," He Weiping, an official with the culture department of Zhejiang provincial government, told Xinhua,
Blocking release amounted to surrendering revenues from cinema screenings to online distributors, who were mostly illegal, said Li Hongliang, head of the administrative office of the Hengdian World Studios, China's largest film and television production base with 360 private studios, in Zhejiang Province.
"The film and television industries in China are on a fast track of development. China produces 400 to 500 films a year. The movie approval system needs to be reformed or the increasing number of local movies will push the approval system to its limit," he said.
In China, the SARFT is the only agency that can approve the release and screening of films, whereas provincial agencies handle the approval of TV dramas.
To be approved, films must be screened by the SARFT to ensure their content conforms to rules that explicitly forbid 10 categories of content, including promoting obscenity and violence.
Professor Chen Shan of China's leading filming school Beijing Film Academy said the adoption of a rating system would still need a process of deliberation because of "the reality in China."
"Ratings may be difficult to enforce in cinemas and some production firms might exploit the rating system to release vulgar movies. Besides, the Chinese law forbids erotic content," he said.
Calls to the SARFT headquarters in Beijing have gone unanswered. The most recent public comment from the SARFT came from film department head Tong Gang in February 2009 in Hong Kong, where he reportedly said the authorities had been discussing adoption of a rating system. He denied that a rating system would greenlight erotic movies in China.
Professor Chen said China could take a transitional measure between approval and rating systems. "We could advise parents of movies that might not be suitable for children."