Dawn of a New Red


An upcoming anticommunist film is bending over backwards to avoid offending the world's most powerful communists. The L.A. Times reports:

When MGM decided a few years ago to remake "Red Dawn," a 1984 Cold War drama about a bunch of American farm kids repelling a Soviet invasion, the studio needed new villains, since the U.S.S.R. had collapsed in 1991. The producers substituted Chinese aggressors for the Soviets and filmed the movie in Michigan in 2009.

But potential distributors are nervous about becoming associated with the finished film, concerned that doing so would harm their ability to do business with the rising Asian superpower, one of the fastest-growing and potentially most lucrative markets for American movies, not to mention other U.S. products.

As a result, the filmmakers now are digitally erasing Chinese flags and military symbols from "Red Dawn," substituting dialogue and altering the film to depict much of the invading force as being from North Korea, an isolated country where American media companies have no dollars at stake.

One lesson here is, in the Times's words, "just how much sway China's government has in the global entertainment industry, even without uttering a word of official protest." Another is that such a seemingly significant plot point as the identity of the invaders is actually as interchangeable as a MacGuffin. (*) Russians, Chinese, North Koreans—I'll bet you could make it an invasion from Grenada and shoot an almost identical script.

Maybe the source of Red Dawn's invading armies was always less important than it seemed, masking the more surprising themes lurking under the surface. As I wrote back in 2008, after noting that the first Rambo picture "asks the audience to cheer for a guerilla hero,"

This was surprisingly common in the allegedly right-wing cult movies of the '80s. Consider John Milius' Red Dawn (1984), in which a small group of Colorado high school jocks battle a Soviet occupation. The film outraged liberal critics, but further to the left it had some supporters. In a witty and perceptive piece for The Nation, Andrew Kopkind called it "the most convincing story about popular resistance to imperial oppression since the inimitable Battle of Algiers," adding that he'd "take the Wolverines from Colorado over a small circle of friends from Harvard Square in any revolutionary situation I can imagine." The one sympathetic character among the occupying forces is a Cuban colonel with a background in guerilla warfare. At one point he tells a Russian officer, voice dripping with disgust, that he used to be an insurgent but now is "just like you—a policeman." Increasingly sympathetic to the Coloradoan rebels, at a key moment the Cuban allows two of them to escape.

(* This sentence originally identified the invaders' identity itself as a MacGuffin, but as a reader points out, the word has a more specific meaning than that.)