Analysts Monday called on authorities to create the Chinese mainland's own film-rating system, after an online joke concerning the removal of nude scenes in Titanic 3D entertained many fans, critics and media outlets.
"It is fake, and it is a joke from a student who is going to graduate," the original poster of the message explained Saturday on his Sina blog.
The message claimed the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) had cut nude scenes from Titanic 3D for fear that the viewers would reach out and disturb other viewers.
"At the very end of the message, I put the word 'fake news' to alert readers. But many news portals forwarded the message without the 'fake news' warning, thus turning it into an official announcement from SARFT," the blogger "Doubandounimei" said.
He claimed that he made up the news "in the shoes of SARFT" because he was confused by the administration's criteria for cutting movie scenes.
In his original message on April 8, "Doubandounimei" said SARFT had deleted the scene where Jack draws a picture of naked Rose, which was not cut in 1998 when the movie first aired on the mainland.
"SARFT explained that, considering the vivid 3D effects, we fear viewers may reach out toward Rose and thus interrupt others. To avoid potential conflicts between viewers and out of consideration for building a harmonious social environment, we have decided to cut the nude scenes," the message claimed, with a "fake news" warning at the very end.
The made-up message sparked an immediate uproar among fans against SARFT, with some news reports taking it as an official announcement.
Four days later, the information was reported by foreign media. During the US comedy talk show The Colbert Report on Thursday, the movie's director, James Cameron, also joked about the alleged deletion.
"Doubandounimei" wrote on his Sina Weibo on Sunday that he refused all interviews from media, saying that he was too busy with his dissertation.
SARFT has not responded to the fake message so far. Calls to its spokesperson's office went unanswered Monday.
The mainland does not have a movie-rating system, and SARFT's lack of transparency in deleting scenes has long been questioned by fans and critics.
Containing bold sex scenes, Ang Lee's Oscar-winning film Lust, Caution had to be cut by seven minutes when it was shown on the mainland in 2007.
Fans who were unsatisfied by the deletion chose to download the film's uncut version or even traveled to Hong Kong to watch the steamy sections.
The 3D Sex and Zen Extreme Ecstasy, not approved to be shown on the mainland by SARFT, was also reportedly to have helped boost tourism in Hong Kong given the flow of many mainland visitors to view it there.
Raymond Zhou, a film critic, told the Global Times that many viewers have been used to unexplained deletions by SARFT, so it is no wonder that quite a number of people believed the fake information on Titanic 3D.
"SARFT is treating all the viewers as children when evaluating the content of movies," Zhou said, adding that "subjective" evaluation standards had in fact led to unnecessary cuts of some scenes, as well as leaving in some scenes inappropriate for minors.
"We need objective and transparent standards, which should be specific on what scenes could be kept or not for viewers of different ages," he said.
Zhao Liang, a director who produced the documentary Together, also called for the introduction of a film rating system.
"The current approach by SARFT is undiscriminating and ambiguous. A movie rating system would protect films from losing their artistic value," Zhao told the Global Times.
Li Daoxin, a professor with the School of Arts under Peking University, told the Global Times that the absence of a rating system is due to SARFT's "outdated" approach.
"The administration's expectations for viewers and their criteria for film evaluation date back to the pre-globalization and pre-Internet era," Li said Monday.
During Vice President Xi Jinping's trip to the US in February, the two sides reached a deal that Beijing will permit 14 US premium format films to air, such as IMAX or 3D, which will be exempt from its annual quota of importing 20 foreign movies, as will the 2D versions of the films.
Yang Jingjie and agencies contributed to this story