Red Dawn: Made, and censored, in China

Chinese government censorship has Red Dawn protaganists fighting the North Koreans in late 2012 remake release. Is Chinese censorship pervasive in films? Photo: Red Dawn, movie 2012

BEIJING, January 9, 2013 – Oscar season has us looking back at the films released in 2012 and Red Dawn, a remake of the 1984 semi-classic was released nationwide in late November. The influence of China on Hollywood makes this film notable.

The film stars the man in steel, not that man of steel, Thor aka the mild mannered hunk Chris Hemsworth. Also starring are Adrianne Palicki, from the TV series Supernatural and Josh Hutcherson, The Hunger Games.

Like the original 1984 film a group of overachieving teens take on the invading “Red-Army” who hope to spread their communist influence to the United States. Unlike the original film these teens will not be fighting the Russians but will instead pit against an invading Chinese army… no wait, North Korean army.

Sorry, please scratch what I just said. Literally.

In hopes of appeasing strict Chinese government censorship and tapping into the massive pockets of Chinese movie-goers (1.3 billion deep), Red Dawn, originally to be released in November of 2010 was digitally altered to have the Chinese flags and other military symbols erased and replaced with the North Korean equivalent. Which means changes to the script and the very intention of the original writer.

So much for preventing the invading Chinese. I wonder if this could be a really big spoiler? Does America lose in the end?

From 2009′s 2012 to the recently released Battleship the tweaks of Chinese producers and or government censors can be seen. The addition of a Chinese star here and there, Resident Evil: Retribution’s Li Bing Bing or sprinkling a bit of “local flavor” to enhance the appeal of a film to the Chinese marketplace, such as in Iron Man, 3 is becoming more common.

Even 2012’s Looper falls victim to the red ink army; pay close attention when watching the scene where Abe, played by Jeff Daniels, Newsroom, tells Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, “I’m from the future. You should go to China.”

One scene among others that was edited. Wait, will China buy out Newsroom in the future?

Another American classic gone the way of the AMC movie theater chain.

According to the Chinese production company DMG, Looper went through major changes to please the company’s investors. The sections of Looper supposed to be set in France were set in China instead.

Politically charged films or those with strong themes like freedom of speech or government corruption would find it difficult to pass the censorship barrier in China, and Hollywood is listening.

You would be hard pressed to see a big budget film with Chinese “bad guys” anytime soon. I mean if Brad Pitt got banned from China just for acting in the film Seven Years in Tibet who knows what would happen if the baddies in Red Dawn were Chinese?

A few quips come to mind but I digress.

With all these alterations to Hollywood films what Americans need right now is a film where the youth of the United States take on the censorship and oppression of communist influence by changing the nationality of the enemy in the film because we’re scared of their response and hey, everyone knows Chinese and North Koreans both look alike, right?

They’re both red.

Putting aside my affinity for sarcasm for a moment, Red Dawn has the potential to be an exciting film. It’s directed by Dan Bradley who was the second unit director of Spider-Man 2, Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and The Bourne Legacy to name a few.

One of the writers, Carl Ellsworth also wrote Disturbia and Red Eye. And Chris Hemsworth appears golden at the moment, with Cabin in the Woods lauded with critical success and both The Avengers and Snow White and the Huntsman amassing huge financial laurels.

Moreover the influence of China is as inevitable as the influence of the United States of years past was. Wouldn’t one be a hypocrite to chide the imprint of the Middle Kingdom and ignore the original cultural conqueror: the United States… scratch that, Genghis Khan. Why does it always come back to Northern Asia?

Red Dawn, and its eerie contradiction of theme and digital altered post-production was released on November 21st.


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Dwain Worrell

A Georgia State University graduate, Dwain Worrell majored in theater with concentration in play and screenwriting. Dwain is a news  article translator in Beijing and a screenwriter.

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