One of China’s government-run newspapers is unhappy about Dan Bradley’s upcoming remake of Red Dawn — not because Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck pale in comparison to Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, but because China has been recast as the enemy.
The 1984 film depicted the United States being invaded by the Soviet Union and its Cuban allies. However, the new version, which opens on Nov. 24, replaces the long-gone Soviet threat with a Chinese invasion. And that doesn’t sit well with the editorial writers of the Beijing-based Global Times.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, editorials in the newspaper’s Monday and Tuesday editions carried headlines “U.S. reshoots Cold War movie to demonize China” and “American movie plants hostile seeds against China.” The only opinion piece I could find on The Global Times website was the more reserved “Fear of China all too evident in US culture.”
“Concerns over foreign invasion have never ceased in the US,” Wu Meng writes. “It is intriguing that China has replaced the Soviet Union to become the top potential enemy causing fear in the US. The role change reflects the concern among ordinary Americans that China’s growing global influence is a disconcerting, alarming matter.”
The Chinese media aren’t alone in questioning the tone, and content, of Red Dawn. After reading a draft of the script, The Awl’s Abe Sauer last week called the movie “just another in a long, tired, example of how America’s thinking about China has not progressed past Rohmer’s Fu Manchu. […] 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.”
The original Red Dawn certainly hit those “survivalist porn” chords, leading a generation of American teen-agers to fantasize about what they would do if (or when) the Soviets invaded. It was a product of early-’80s Cold War paranoia — the same anxiety that bred made-for-TV movies like Special Bulletin and The Day After — mixed with machismo. But when the film swaps concerns about invasion by the “Red Menace” for what amounts to reignited fear of the “Yellow Peril,” complete with a century’s worth of baggage that comes with the term, an undeniable racial element is introduced. It becomes the big, uncomfortable-looking elephant in the middle of the theater.
A spokesman for MGM, a studio besieged by enough problems already, defended the remake, telling Sauer, “Red Dawn is an action film, it is not xenophobic and it is far too early in the process to make assumptions about the film that will appear in theaters.”
But is Red Dawn, as The Global Times suggests, tapping into American concerns about the rise of China as an economic power? Or is it, as Sauer seems to argue, another instance of long-held animosities bubbling to the surface? Teng Jimeng, a professor of American Studies at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, contends it’s neither, telling The Hollywood Reporter, “It’s just a piece of entertainment meant to make money out of the pockets of the post-Cold War, ideology-weary, multicultural audience.”