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Last summer, when The Karate Kid remake opened in theaters on its way to an enormous $359 million worldwide gross, I marveled at the fact that this movie, practically an ad for China, would be followed in the fall with Red Dawn, another 80s remake that would be treating the Chinese as villains in an invading army storyline. It seemed bizarre and also telling that two different Hollywood movies were coming out in the same year with diametrically opposed viewpoints of China-- one as an economic partner and friend, the other as a terrifying and faceless enemy. Given that The Karate Kid got substantial financial help and assistance from the Chinese government, and Red Dawn was struggling to make it to theaters thanks to broke distributor MGM, it seemed like one of those films picked the right side.
Now Red Dawn is trying to make the same move-- or, at least, abandon the idea that the Chinese are the enemies to be feared. According to The LA Times, the film-- which has yet to secure a release date-- will be tweaked in order to present North Korea, not China, as the invading force fought off by a group of scrappy high schoolers. MGM claims they didn't get any criticism from the Chinese government or hear from them at all, but in trying to interest other distributors to take on the movie, none of the other studios were willing to distribute it for fear of alienating the very lucrative Chinese market. Explain Dan Mintz of DMG Entertainment:
"There would have been a real backlash. It's like being invited to a dinner party and insulting the host all night long. There's no way to look good.... The film itself was not a smart move."So rather than lose out on all those Chinese eyeballs, the Red Dawn producers are spending under $1 million to digitally alter any number of flags and signs, re-edit two scenes and change the opening sequences that explained how the Chinese--excuse me, North Korean-- army came to invade the United States to begin with. Weirdly, though, the LA Times notes "it's impossible to eliminate all references to China," and the Chinese will still play some role in the invasion, even if the main focus goes to North Korea.
Of course, there's still no one stepping up to distribute Red Dawn just yet, and it's entirely possible the movie will go straight to DVD, even with Thor himself Chris Hemsworth starring. But the change to North Korean villains is doubtlessly a smart economic movie, the kind of decision you have to wonder why they didn't make way back in 2009 when they first shot the thing. Red Dawn isn't exactly going to be a love letter to Beijing the way The Karate Kid was, but its producers seem to have realized the same thing Will Smith did when making that film: there's a lot of Chinese money, and it's there for the taking.