Saturday, October 13, 2012

Villain du Jour

If you live in North Korea, you don't have a lot to celebrate. Food is scarce, information is tightly controlled and internal dissent is crushed. So holidays are a big deal. Even within the controlled script that the government gives out, at least it's a chance for music and dancing and parades. Such is the story on happy days like July 27th, the day the Korean War ended, better known there as "Victory Day," or August 15th, the day that Japan surrendered to the Allies in World War II, which opened the door to the establishment of the modern Korea, such as it is.

But come next month there will be yet another day of national pride to be feted. That's because on November 21, after five years or trying, producer FilmDistrict will finally release "Red Dawn," a remake of the 1984 cult classic. I know, you're asking the obvious: not "what does this have to do with North Korea?" but rather "do we really need a remake of a film that features a young Jennifer Grey before she was dirty dancing?" True, it only got a 53% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, it was the 20th highest grossing film of 1984, taking in over $38 million dollars, and beating out such well-known classics as "The Terminator" and "The Killing Fields." So remake it is.

To understand the Korean connection, you need to know the film. And so if you've let your Netflix account lapse, allow me to revisit the plot for you. Staring the late Patrick Swayze and a still innocent-looking Charlie Sheen in his film debut, it's about a bunch of teenagers who fight back when their small town in Colorado is invaded and taken over by Communist troops. Calling themselves the Wolverines after their school mascot, they shoot, blow things up and get ugly in a big way, so much so that it was reportedly the first film to earn a PG-13 rating.

And who was subject of all that violence? Why the aggressors of course, those godless heathens that invaded our sacred shores. While today we generally are attacked in films by madmen or terrorists with nukes or chemicals, back in the mid-eighties we still went toe-to-toe with nations fielding big armies armed with conventional weapons. And so in what was just about their swan song on the international stage, the enemies in the film were the Russians and their favorite client state, Cuba.

Of course, twenty years later when they started working on the remake, while we might not exactly have been drinking buddies with Mother Russia, neither was it realistic to think they would send an invading army. And so, get me rewrite: the producers did a little nip and tuck, and voila! While the color red and the commie underpinning stayed, the soldiers' homeland shifted a few thousand miles farther east to China.

All well and good. But while the film got hung up in the maelstrom that was the MGM bankruptcy, the world hardly stood still. And so China went from being a belligerent country that threatened our very way of life to 1) our biggest creditor and 2) a huge market for Hollywood films. And if you don't want to offend the government, nor piss off the common folk who buy tickets, calling them a marauding menace is probably not the best approach.

And (finally) that's where North Korea comes in. Never mind that they have no major transport planes to get soldiers to the US. Never mind that their army is using weapons left over from 1950. Never mind that we've got more spy satellites and early warning systems trained on their borders, and so would know if they launched a tennis ball let alone a major attack. The odds are that offending them won't lead to a loss of ticket sales at the Pyongyang multiplex. And so a little digital manipulation here, some judicious reshooting there, and before you can say DMZ, bang! Colorado is at war with the Outstanding Leader's hoards.

So going forward let November 21st be a cause for dancing north of the 49th Parallel. For on that day, the Hermit Kingdom attacked the Yankee Dog, caught him flat footed and made a go of it. Yes, they were beaten back by a band of kids. But, at least on film, they went mano-a-mano with the big boys and gave as good as they got. Hey: a country can dream, can't it?


Marc Wollin of Bedford will probably skip the remake. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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