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Racially insensitive 'Red Dawn' doomed by political pandering

FilmDistrict

By Sean Czarnecki, Daily Arts Writer
Published November 26, 2012

During post-production of “Red Dawn,” MGM’s execs changed the nationality of the invading Chinese army to North Korean by digitally altering flags and other national symbols, and dubbing over the original Chinese dialogue with Korean. The studio didn’t want to alienate Chinese audiences. And folks, therein lies the moral of the story: China’s a big cash cow, and North Korea — well, no one likes an Asian who can’t afford the price of admission, even if it’s because he or she is living under the regime of the world's most oppressive dictatorship. No harm done. Asians do all look the same.

Had MGM left nationalities alone, “Red Dawn” would’ve just been another stupid remake, a stupid, stupid story of how Washington teenagers band together as a tight-knit group of insurgents who call themselves the Wolverines (after their high school mascot) fighting off a Chinese invasion. Now, “Red Dawn” has become an ignorant, misguided mess pandering to audiences infected with American jingoism and racial fears, bitten by Yellow Peril. It has been made into something it should’ve never been.

And yes, it’s still stupid.

Directed by newcomer Don Bradley, a well-known stunt coordinator who worked on such films as “The Bourne Supremacy,” it should be a safe assumption walking unknowingly into “Red Dawn” that its action scenes would be its saving grace. Instead, the viewer is too often lost in a jumble of shaky camerawork, hindering the action rather than augmenting it. The action lacks ease, direction and, worse yet, fun.

Lost, too, is any sense of logic. Whenever the Wolverines leave their humble home in the woods to kill some commies, they seem to waltz into their North Korean-occupied city. We have no idea how they got inside with AK-47s. Were there fences? Were there guards? The Wolverines walk in, bomb a few places, shoot up some people and walk out. They learn to kill and to be soldiers in what appears to be a couple of weeks. It’s difficult to decide what to blame for these discontinuities: Was it the terrible writing, the terrible editing or both?

It’s only when “Red Dawn” is three-quarters finished that an actual objective arises for the Wolverines. Until then, without a clear sense of setting and time, we spring from one flashy, shaky gunfight to another like an unhappy version of that slinky on an escalator from the GEICO commercial — miserable and mindless. You can’t help but think almost half of the film could’ve been lopped off.

Speaking of things that are clunky and absurd, Josh Peck (TV’s “Drake and Josh”) stars as Matt Eckhert, and he sure does try. To be fair, his moments with his Marine brother, Jed Eckhert (Chris Hemsworth, “The Avengers”), are performed with believability, though never with depth. Hemsworth is charismatic as a big brother, but his patriotic speeches often leave you burying your head in a bag of popcorn, rather than roused.

When Smith (Kenneth Choi, “Captain America: The First Avenger”) enters the picture, it’s painfully obvious what they were doing. He’s the token Asian-American character fighting for his country, for the Red, White and Blue — which is hardly consoling for any Asian-American.

While enduring this long hour-and-a-half as the lone Asian-American in the theater, there was a woman in the audience, clearly incensed by Jed’s “Go America” speech, who let out a painful, whispered “yeah!” each time she saw America’s freedom being righteously defended. As if the mightiest military superpower should feel like a victim. There is no self-referential humor or anything else to indicate filmmakers of “Red Dawn” really understood that irony.

MGM’s decision has politicized what should have been nothing but bubblegum action thrills. Still, it’d be slanderous to say the director, the writer, the actors or anyone else involved in “Red Dawn” is racist. But for pandering to the minutemen in all of us, for reviving old memories of immigration exclusion, riots, violence, war and xenophobia, the film itself is tremendously irresponsible. It makes one wonder if and how many Americans across the country reacted the same way that woman in the theater did. Do they see the North Korean/Chinese army as invaders? Or Asian invaders?