It's not a good time to hate the Chinese, if you're in the entertainment business.
On the heels of the March 15 release of game publisher THQ's Homefront, about a near-future American resistance fighting off an invading North Korean army, the L.A. Times wrote a piece about how movie studio MGM has taken to digitally altering and re-editing its remake of Red Dawn to make the aggressors Korean and not Chinese.
This is an odd coincidence, given that Homefront initially was to feature the Chinese as the invaders, but was changed because, according to reports, people simply weren't that afraid of China. Even stranger: Both Homefront and the original 1984 Red Dawn, which featured Soviets and Cubans as the enemy, were written by John Milius, a stalwart conservative and NRA board member whose scripts often reflect his sometimes paranoid political beliefs.
MGM makes no secret that the changes to its movie, which was shot in 2009, is strictly for monetary reasons. China is Hollywood's fifth-largest market outside of the U.S., the Times says, generating some $1.5 billion in revenue in 2010 alone. It simply wouldn't do to have a film cause a stir, even if it's in a nation that only allows 20 foreign-made films into its market each year.
Problem is, it's already dredged up some issues, because Chinese Web portals featured stills from the movie in late 2009 showing actors dressed as Red Army soldiers with faux anti-American propaganda. While there's been no official word from the Chinese government about the movie — which was shot in Michigan and features Thor actor Chris Hemsworth and future NBC Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki — at least one distributor to China says even running the risk of alienating the country was a bad idea, with or without re-editing.
"It's like being invited to a dinner party and insulting the host all night long," Dan Mintz, of film distributor DMG Entertainment, told the Times. "There's no way to look good. ... The film itself was not a smart move."
The Times noted that MGM, which tabled the movie from its November release as it went through bankruptcy, has spent $1 million on the changes, which "involve changing an opening sequence summarizing the story's fictional backdrop, re-editing two scenes and using digital technology to transform many Chinese symbols to Korean."
That sets me to thinking: If Homefront allegedly decided early on to switch from the Chinese to the North Koreans for supposed "business reasons," what, exactly, were those reasons? For the sake of specificity, Homefront's antagonists are actually a future, unified Korea, set in a 2027 post-peak oil Earth in which China's role in global events is diminished. It seems to me that the Chinese would find that idea just as insulting as spearheading a bloodthirsty invasion force, if not more so.
The repercussions for gaming sales are even worse this way. While foreign consoles aren't allowed in China, the game's story has been altered in Japan so that the name Korea isn't used at all, opting for references to a "Certain Country to the North" and calling Kim Jong-Il the "Northern Leader," according to Japanese publisher Spike. And in gaming-crazy South Korea, which is well-known for having people literally drop dead from exhaustion from online gaming, Homefront was banned altogether.
Not that THQ and Kaos Studios have reason to be that concerned. Pre-orders for Homefront topped 200,000 in the U.S., with first-day sales clocking in around 375,000 copies in North America. Analysts are placing projections of total sales in the 2 million range. Not bad for a game that possibly alienates a large portion of its potential audience, although Korean and Japanese gamers may not be all that fazed by the idea of the Mississippi River being irradiated as the American military proves largely ineffective.
No, what seems to really be at work here is that Milius, even with his writing cred long-established with manly movies like Apocalypse Now, Jeremiah Johnson and Dirty Harry fare, may not have wanted to infringe on the plot for the Red Dawn remake by repeating it in Homefront. Ironic, then, that MGM has taken the same steps as THQ and Kaos by making the North Koreans the bad guys, which also conveniently shies away from the recent trend of casting Arabs in a harsh, warlike light in both games and movies.
One thing's pretty certain, though: While there's still a question whether Red Dawn will ever see the light of DVD or be shelved entirely, despite its $60 million budget, Homefront is almost guaranteed a sequel.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at email@example.com.