'Red Dawn' remake: Is Hollywood 'kowtowing' to China?

MGM casts the Chinese as villains in a new version of the 1980s classic — then digitally changes them to North Koreans. Why is the studio running scared?

Would Patrick Swayze (shown here taking on Soviet invaders in 1984's "Red Dawn") have been as motivated if the villains were North Koreans?
(Image credit: Screen shot, MGM studios)

Hollywood studios are used to tweaking their movies in post-production, typically to correct relatively small oversights. But MGM is going a step further with its 2011 remake of Red Dawn, the 1984 thriller in which a team of kids attempt to fend off a Soviet invasion of the U.S. The studio originally filmed the new movie with Chinese villains (since there's no longer a Soviet Union) — but, in a last-minute switch, is digitally replacing the flags and uniforms to show the national symbols of North Korea, not China. This about-face has provoked accusations that Hollywood is "kowtowing" to China. Why did MGM do it?

It's a business decision: MGM had no real choice, say Ben Fritz and John Horn in the Los Angeles Times. It discovered that distributors, afraid of harming their ability to "do business with the rising Asian superpower," wouldn't touch their Red Dawn. China is now the fifth biggest box office market outside the U.S, with $1.5 billion in revenue. The "potential blowback" of casting their people as the bad guys could have been immense.

"Reel China: Hollywood tries to stay on China's good side"

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

It's a sign of the times: The original Red Dawn was a "cultural marker," says Daniel Foster at the National Review. It signaled an end to the Carter doctrine of detente, and announced that "the age of Reagan had arrived in full." By contrast, this film is a "sick joke," bowing to the power of the yuan "without the PRC even uttering a single word of protest." I guess that's a cultural marker, too.

"Red Dawn remake illustrates why we so badly need a Red Dawn remake"

America has lost control of pop culture: "Stick a fork in American cultural imperialism," says Andrew Leonard at Salon. "It's done." Where once the U.S. led the world in commodifying "global pop culture," now we are content to cede control to the Chinese. What has America come to if it can no longer "reduce foreign cultures to menacing cartoon stereotypes"?

"Hollywood's kotwow: Red Dawn dumps Chinese invaders"

It's a missed opportunity: The whole point of Red Dawn is to "exploit American jitters over a rival superpower," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. With its starving population and tinpot military, North Korea is a poor replacement for the distinctly threatening China. Wouldn't an easier solution simply be to "recut the ending for foreign distribution to show China winning?" That would be "box office gold."

"Good news: Red Dawn remake changes villains from China to North Korea"

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.