Editorial published in Bangkok Post
IF you’ve seen the new Thai action movie ‘Chocolate’ you’ll know it’s a fist-flying, leg-snapping type of movie. Barely a moment goes by when the movie’s heroine Yanin Vismitananda isn’t kicking, punching, or elbowing a foe.
However, while I watched ‘Chocolate’ my attention was more on the audience than the screen: half of those present were children. For a movie peppered with so much violence it seemed incongruous that anyone should consider it acceptable to let a five-year-old watch it.
The youngsters seemed bewildered when, after ten minutes, they had witnessed sex, swearing and shootings. After an hour, a young child wanted to go to the bathroom. His mother leaned over and whispered ‘outside, on the right’ and went on munching her popcorn. By the look on the child’s face, he just wanted to get away from the blood and the beatings.
‘Chocolate’ may be a great movie, but it isn’t supposed to be family viewing. So whose job is it to protect Thai children? Officially, the role lies with the Film Censorship Board of Thailand.
This quango decides what we should and shouldn’t see, and is maddeningly inconsistent. In general it seems that extreme violence is ok, sex isn’t (Schindler’s List was originally banned as it contained nudity).
Thai television is just as strange; violence is acceptable for anyone to view any time of the day or night, but dare to light a cigarette and the Office of Pixilation will be onto you.
So just who is the Film Board trying to protect? If it is adults, then isn’t that a little patronising? We don’t all go on a shooting rampage after watching ‘American Gangster’ so surely we won’t all get overly-amorous if we happen to catch a glimpse of human flesh on the big screen. At present, it just seems that sensitivity often trumps sense. And if the Board is trying to protect the country’s youth, then wouldn’t it be easier to simply ban children from certain films and allow the rest of us to enjoy them as the directors first envisaged?
Most Western countries have a simple ratings system. It works well and ensures films don’t have to be cut to pieces before they are fit for public viewing. It seems an obvious solution, and therefore maybe the Thai board should begin thinking more about censoring who gets in to the cinema, rather than what they watch.
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul would certainly welcome change. Last year he fell foul of the censors with his movie ‘Syndromes and a Century’. Scenes showing a monk playing guitar, a physician kissing his girlfriend and a doctor drinking whiskey didn’t go down well. The resulting row did at least provoke some debate over what should and should not be shown, but for the time-being things remain the same. We hope that Thailand’s new government will consider the issue. It may seem trivial compared to other matters, but children who see violence all around them form an early age have a habit of becoming adults who use violence.
But maybe we shouldn’t just be questioning the Film Board. After all, they aren’t the ones bringing children to the cinemas. It is parents who really need to consider what their children see. There may not be a ratings system in Thailand, but parents should be more discriminating about what their children view.
It’s easy to forget that what we have become accustomed to may be a completely new, and shocking, image for a child. ‘Chocolate’ sees Yanin Vismitananda use sticks, butcher’s hooks and ice blocks to beat her opponents into submission. She pulls no punches, and neither do the directors. It’s a great movie, just not one I’d want my child to see.
Thai censors seem unsure what to cut and what to leave. Violence is OK (as long as you don’t point guns at anyone), smoking is all right (as long as you don’t light the cigarette), while nudity (female, at least) remains taboo. Even if Thailand’s Film Board remains unsure about how to deal with censorship it doesn’t mean that we as adults should be just as irresolute. We should all take responsibility for our children and not rely on quangos to do it for us.