With the announcement of our Halloween party, we found ourselves pondering what scary movie we could watch to help get us into the spirit. But as film critic, Yang Jian points out, if you’re looking for something that will chill you to the bone, you’ll probably want to pass on any Chinese movie selections. Censorship laws pertaining to the movie-making industry are stunting domestic films and it’s the horror genre that really takes a beating.
Internet censorship always grabs the spotlight however the PRC censors the film industry pretty thoroughly too. China has no motion picture rating system meaning everything obtains approval on a film-by-film basis and unfortunately the government does not look so favorably on the mainstays of horror pieces, namely violence and the supernatural.
More specifically, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT)
stipulates that the following must be cut or revised:
Content that mixes murder, violence, terror, monsters, and spirits; whose value orientation reverses true and false, good and evil, and beauty and ugliness, or which confuses the basic nature of justice and injustice; played-up, detailed depictions of crimes and the details of their commission, or exposure of special investigative techniques; particularly offensive killing, gore, violence, drug abuse, and gambling; abuse of prisoners, tortured confessions; excessively shocking visuals, dialogue, background music, or sound effects.
Actually, with that many restrictions, it’s a miracle any films are made in China at all. No wonder Iron Man 2 underwent some funky editing. It’s a real pity because Chinese culture boasts a rich and wonderful tradition of ghost stories. The 2008 movie, Painted Skin, takes its storyline from Pu Songling’s classic short stories but director Gordan Chan had to change the character of Xiao Wei, who is originally a ghost, to a monster to satisfy censor guidelines. As Yang worded it, “We can bathe in the sensory thrills of foreign-language movies, but Chinese-language films have to dance in shackles.”
Psychological horror is essentially the only route available to Chinese filmmakers who want to produce frightening films. It’s also against regulations for moviemakers to cut a separate version for other regions so that’s not an option to bypass the system either. So cue numerous “it was all a dream/drug-induced hallucination/awkwardly-tacked on scientific explanation” endings.
The trend in Chinese horror in recent years has been in the only direction available: characters, for various reasons, find things psychologically unbearable, so they experience hallucinations and enter a state of altered reality. But the fact that the ghosts are not real is the goblin that sits atop all the other problems. To pull in viewers, a movie must mislead its audience, because otherwise there is nothing attractive about the B-movie content, simple plot, and poor CG of a mid- to low-budget horror film…
So, maybe an 8-kuai pirated copy of the Exorcist then?