- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

SHENZHEN, China

Black-robed warriors fly through the air. Thousands of men clash with spears in spectacular battles. And an emperor struts around in splendid golden robes in the Chinese blockbuster “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

But the scenes that perhaps stood out the most in moviegoer Jiang Chengkui’s mind were those of busty women wearing tight, low-cut gowns in the ninth century costume drama. The abundant cleavage was too much for the 32-year-old electronics worker.

“I don’t feel very good about it,” Mr. Jiang said after leaving a theater in this southern city. “There should be age restrictions for the movie.”

Mr. Jiang’s complaint highlights an interesting anomaly about China. The country is ruled by an often control-freakish Communist Party that is highly sensitive about what is shown in movies. Aggressive censors frequently ban films or cut scenes especially those deemed politically sensitive.

Yet, China has no rating system for movies no formal way of warning people, especially parents, of violence or sexual content. Any child can see “Curse” in China as long as he or she can plunk down enough money for a ticket.

By contrast, in America a place many Chinese perceive as wildly permissive “Curse” is rated R for violence. Children younger than 17 must be accompanied by a parent or an adult guardian to see it. Other countries also have rating systems.

Officials at China’s Film Bureau didn’t answer calls or respond to faxed questions from Associated Press about the ratings issue.

The controversy over the cleavage in “Curse” has touched off a debate about social standards and highlighted a tug-of-war over censorship between the government and film industry.

Media analyst Wang Ran said the government likes to remain fuzzy about what’s allowed in movies because it allows censors more leeway to tighten and loosen their grip. If guidelines were to be made public, the censors would have less freedom and power, he said.

“Once there is a clearer ratings system, the level of discretion is reduced,” said Mr. Wang, founder of China eCapital Corp., a Chinese investment bank that specializes in the media industry.

Movie producer Nai An said Chinese filmmakers want a ratings system so the censorship process is more predictable.

“When you’re coming up with a story or making a movie, on one hand you have to think about how to make a lively movie. On the other hand, you have to think about whether your ideas will run into trouble. No one is clear on that,” she said.

Ratings are “a more reasonable and scientific system of movie censorship,” said Miss Nai, whom Chinese authorities have banned from making films for five years after she screened a movie at the Cannes Film Festival in May without government approval.

The ratings issue was recently raised by the official China Daily newspaper, which said the busty actresses in “Curse” have renewed calls for a warning system. The story was illustrated with a photo of the female lead actress, Gong Li, who recently starred in the film “Miami Vice.”

“The most eye-catching is Gong Li, with her breasts appearing ready to pop out of her tightly wrapped costumes,” the paper said.

The story quoted a mother, Ding Yunxia, who said she took her 5-year-old son to the movie and had to frequently cover his eyes with her hands.

“I’m not sure how much of those shiny white breasts rubbed off his eyes,” she was quoted as saying.

Are the revealing costumes true to the film’s historical period the Tang dynasty of 618-907 Or are they a crass bid to attract a bigger audience?

Art historian Tonia Eckfeld of the University of Melbourne said, “Tang fashions are clearly the inspiration.”

The scholar said murals preserved from Tang-era tombs show women from the imperial court wearing costumes similar to those seen in “Curse.” Women wore “low-cut necklines showing an erotic touch of cleavage and seductive poses displayed by palace dancers,” she said.

Although some moviegoers were offended by “Curse,” which also stars Chow Yun Fat, many others likely found the film’s scenes tame compared to what they’ve seen on racy pirated DVDs that are widely sold in China. In big cities like Beijing, street hawkers with coat pockets full of DVDs roam busy shopping areas, with a simple sales pitch, “DVD, sexy movie?”

Whatever the reservations about “Curse,” they don’t appear to be discouraging Chinese viewers from seeing it. The movie has already made more than $32 million at the Chinese box office a strong showing by local standards, according to figures released by the Film Bureau earlier this month.

Scenes with actress Gong Li showing ample cleavage in China’s “Curse of the Golden Flower” have drawn calls in the totalitarian nation for a ratings system that would warn moviegoers with young children away from material they may find objectionable.

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