If things go as planned, the new Film Act will go into effect six weeks from now, on June 4. And though nothing ever goes as planned when it comes to the Culture Ministry (e.g. the recent plan to clothe the pop-nymphs Girly Berry in prim 1900s robes ended in a saucy bitchfest between the glum, Nippon fish-loving minister and the vampish girl group), 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 Pinklao-area ministry. Filmmakers are shuddering at the reputation of our cultural watchdogs, since it is believed the last film they watched was King Kong in 1933, which they don't like because Fay Wray is too sexy and the hairy ape obviously carries a phallic symbolism.
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); 13-plus; 15-plus; 18-plus and 20-plus. Then there's a special rate I tentatively call "P" _ for Promotion, not Prude _ an awkward, unusual label designed for films that deserve to be promoted to the society because of its content. For instance, a historical Thai movie that shows a lot of grisly beheadings and senseless murders of national enemies in the 16th century could get the "P" rating, and 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, like at night clubs. 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. Will there be policemen standing guard or making rounds inside the cinema to surprise under-age law-breakers? 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.
No matter how the ministry writes the regulations, there will certainly be glitches in the initial period; that's natural for every initiative. But what's more troubling is the issue regarding who will sit on the committee that decides the rating (or cutting and banning). As written in the bill, the committee will be made up of civil servants from various bureaucracies (that have no familiarity with the movies or contemporary culture) plus government-appointed film experts, university lecturers, and representatives from the movie industry and consumer groups.
That sounds sensible, only that past experience suggests a high possibility that the state will try to pick the Old Guard, whose puritanical view will prevent the growth of creativity and prolong the insult to viewers' intelligence. Moreover, the number of non-culture bureaucrats on the committee will be dominant, which is not a good omen.
Culture Ministry, please, you have to be a little more open-minded, especially with unmarried people. At a time when Kavi has raped Narin four times (someone actually counts) on prime-time TV, nothing else could faze Thai viewers from on-screen atrocity _ or absurdity. We've already realised that; so you'd better, too.
Kong Rithdee writes about movies and popular culture in the Bangkok Post real.time section.