War movie takes the unprecedented step to limit exposures of younger viewers to depictions of graphic violence.
Mel Gibson’s World War II epic Hacksaw Ridge has taken the unprecedented step of giving itself an age-appropriate rating of 12 years and over in China because the country lacks its own rating system.
At least some of the film’s posters at Chinese cinemas include a warning to ticket buyers that the film contains realistic war scenes and that children “under 12 years old need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.”
In the absence of national age restrictions on violent or sexual films, Chinese censors have to take into consideration viewers of all ages when approving or banning movies. In practice, that means movies R-rated movies from the U.S. are either banned outright or heavily cut for nudity or sexual themes, depictions of paranormal activity, or violence.
Unusually, Gibson’s film, which is known as 血战钢锯岭 Xuèzhàn gāngjùlǐng, or “Bloody Battle, Hacksaw Ridge” in Chinese, had fewer than 30 seconds cut from it in order to gain access to Chinese cinema screens.
While it’s unclear what exactly was cut from the movie, the U.S. version earned its R-rating from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for “intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.”
The film includes depictions of soldiers being burned alive by flamethrowers, stabbed by bayonets and decapitated in kamikaze attacks, according to IMDb.
The film’s battle scenes are so intense that one Chinese film exec — Huayi Brothers CEO Wang Zhonglei — told reporters the film made him anxious to the point where he could “barely breathe.”
The film is restricted to viewers over the age of 15 in Taiwan. In Hong Kong, the film has been given a category IIB rating which means it’s “not suitable for young persons and children.”
Stanley Rosen, a USC political science professor and China film expert, told China Film Insider it is unusual to bring in an American R-rated film, but it’s not unprecedented, especially after cuts are made.
Rosen notes that many Chinese know Mel Gibson and his work and that similarly violent World War II film Saving Private Ryan also screened in China where it was very successful.
Parents groups and film industry lobby groups have been pushing for a rating system for years, but little progress has been made towards instituting one.
In 2014, a multiplex in Ürümqi in Xinjiang province took matters into its own hands and began enforcing its own unofficial age restrictions for films.
Some critics have argued the lack of a clear red line for acceptable limits on sex and violence is intentional as the ambiguity allows censors to block films from home and abroad from screening without much, if any, explanation.
Most recently, a scene involving an “eyeball feast” had to be cut from Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (佩小姐的奇幻城堡) in order to gain release in the world’s second-largest film market.
The World War II biopic of pacifist medic Desmond Doss has been a surprise success in China since its debut on December 8. As of Tuesday, the film had earned RMB 144 million ($20.9 million) in six days.
The film’s self-imposed 12+ rating recommendation for the domestic market could be seen as a preemptive PR move against any charges from parent’s groups that it’s inappropriate.
It could also serve to, whether intentionally or not, make the film even more enticing for audiences’ hankering for realistic depictions of violence. Certainly, the film’s U.S. R-rating is front and center in most of the promotional material and press coverage it has garnered so far.
James Pang Hong, CEO of Kylin Pictures, which partly financed the film, told the DreameGGs website last month the film was likely to do well in China because there have been few war films screened there in recent years.
“This one is anti-fascist and it’s about humans, people wanting peace,” he told the website. “There’s no right and wrong in war but people want peace. This theme itself is very appealing to the Chinese market.”
A full 70 percent of ticket sales for the film on its debut weekend went to young men eager to see the film’s realistic and bloody war scenes that center around the Battle of Okinawa — a staple in anti-Japanese TV programming in China.
Indeed, the South China Morning Post’s film critic James Marsh has noted the film’s Japanese characters “are painted as faceless aggressors devoid of humanity or mercy.”
Some Chinese social media users expressed their dismay at the rating recommendation. “As if anyone under the age of 12 would be going to see this movie anyway,” said one Weibo user. “Anyone under 12 should definitely not be watching this film,” wrote another, “with or without a parent.”