Remember Red Dawn, that good old “Let’s kill the Commies” movie from the 1980s? Back in 1984, Cold War tensions were in full bloom, and Hollywood decided to get in on all the paranoia and patriotism going around. Hence, the original Red Dawn, a campy action flick where the Soviets invade the U.S. only to face resistance from a group of plucky all-American high school students (rather than, you know, the military).
The seemingly unnecessary Red Dawn remake has been sitting on the shelf for over two years. Now, presumably because of its cast of suddenly on fire stars like Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers) and Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), it’s getting a wide release on November 21st. It premiered this past week at Fantastic Fest 2012 to uniformly harsh reviews. But the cast, the reviews, and the delayed release are not the big stories here. What really matters is the identity of the movie’s villains.
Worried that a movie motivated by fear of the Russians would seem strange and anachronistic, the producers of this remake initially decided to make the invaders Chinese. Turns out that Chinese audiences, which often account for a large percentage of an action film’s international box office, didn’t love seeing their country portrayed as horribly evil and yet weirdly ineffectual when faced with a bunch of photogenic teenagers. So, because apparently all Asians look the same to the movie’s producers, the Chinese bad guys were changed to North Koreans in post-production through some digital magic and a whole lot of strategic dubbing.
This is immensely problematic, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. By making such a hasty change, the filmmakers are implying that China and North Korea are relatively interchangeable, aside from their impact on a film’s box office. But our relationships with those two countries are vastly different, and neither of those relationships bears much resemblance to what was going on with Russia when the original Red Dawn was made. China is our trading partner and our heir apparent to “world’s leading superpower” status, if it hasn’t overtaken us already.
The original Red Dawn came out when schoolchildren were still taught duck-and-cover drills in case Russia decided to lob a bomb at us. But anyone who’s convinced that China is planning to invade the U.S. anytime soon should probably hole up with the conspiracy theorists worried about lizard-people running the world. China is doing just fine without taking the effort to wage an expensive war with its most important trade partner.
True, North Korea isn’t the biggest fan of the United States, and it has a history of cruel leadership. But with a population under 25 million and a history of failed rocket launches, a serious invasion would be near impossible. By positing that this troubled country could override U.S. security and take over, Red Dawn the remake transforms from fluffy action-adventure to a fantasy film.
Since neither of these countries posts a legitimate threat, this move on the film’s part feels like unwarranted fear mongering. But maybe none of this matters to the filmmakers. Maybe all they want is to showcase some attractive white kids, blowing away evil people who don’t look like them.