Welcome to the season of geopolitical incoherence. Exhibit one: “The Karate Kid,” which opens June 11th to trade on ’80s nostalgia and test the power of celeb scion Jaden Smith. Despite the decision to keep a Japanese martial art in the title (at least in the US release) in order to preserve name recognition, the film was shot and is set in Beijing, the biggest American-Chinese co-production ever.
Hey, it’s all the same giant continent — what’s a little cultural conflation between studios, so long as it allows a generation of parents to take their children to the exact same movie they lived through in their teenagerdom?
But careful which stereotypes you use. Exhibit two: “Red Dawn,” another ’80s remake which doesn’t come out til Thanksgiving but is already causing much fake controversy. No sane person would look at “Red Dawn” as a reasonable expression of the geopolitical zeitgeist.
And yet the 1984 original (starring, among others, Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson and Charlie Sheen) has the fever of a True Believer. John Milius really did believe that, in case of invasion, the USA would prevail against the Soviet no-goodniks. In a way, it’s tempting to believe that the inexplicable new remake, which replaces the attacking Russians with the Chinese, comes from a place of ideological purity and fanaticism. At least that would be sincere.
That, however, is not the case with the new “Red Dawn,” a movie whose paranoia — People’s Liberation Army invades America, sassy talk-radio listeners fight back — is grounded in economics rather than ideology. The Awl‘s Abe Sauer got his hands on a draft of the script and excoriated its ignorance and potential for inducing xenophobia: “It’s basically porn for survivalist militia types who believe it is ‘real’ scenarios like this that justify everything from the sale of assault rifles to electing nationalist fear-mongers.”
His post was immediately picked back up by Chinese state paper the People’s Daily — which, for good measure, threw in a photo of an “overseas Chinese protest” so amusingly underpopulated that whoever staged it must have been working on seriously short notice.
In the next few months, the film’s sure to provide fodder for plenty of Chinese editorials like this one claiming the new “Red Dawn” reflects fears of Chinese culture: “a sense of misunderstanding, distrust and even fear can still be seen, especially between the two peoples at a non-governmental level.” And that’s sure to continue, until the day when those peoples are able to get together to form mentor/substitute-parent relationships with one another and share emotional healing, training montages and the art of
karate kung fu.
[Photos: “The Karate Kid,” Columbia, 2010; “Red Dawn,” MGM/UA, 1984]