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Tomorrow, MGM’s long-gestating remake of the anti-Communist ‘80s classic Red Dawn finally hits theaters. The project has been ridiculed pretty much since day one; after all, the Patrick Swayze original was the epitome of Cold War paranoia, featuring Soviet and Cuban soldiers parachuting into a wholesome Middle-America town as part of a full-scale invasion of the United States. Just a little dated by today’s standards.
Well, in an effort to update Red Dawn to fit more current fears, the studio decided to switch the invading army from a Communist smorgasbord to a more contemporary enemy state: North Korea. This little bit of bait-and-switch got me thinking – is Red Dawn the only film where this trick could work? Or would a North Korean infusion allow other ‘80s classics to be revived as well? Let’s take a look.
Back to the Future (1985)
What would change? Here’s a simple one – Red Dawn just switched the baddies from Russian to Korean. So let’s take the same model and apply it to the Michael J. Fox classic. Those Libyan terrorists that Doc Brown steals his plutonium from? Make them North Korean! Easy.
Does it make the movie better? Shockingly, this one would backfire spectacularly – Libyans are suddenly way more politically and culturally relevant than Koreans. I guess these things go in cycles.
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
What would change? So you remember when the government finds out about E.T. and seizes both the alien and Elliott? What if other world powers got wind of extra-terrestrial life (and technology) in California? It’s not like the U.S. men in black do a very good job of keeping things discrete. Seems entirely possible that a North Korean unit could show up (parachuting in Red Dawn-style, of course) in an attempt to seize such a valuable international asset.
Does it make the movie better? This one actually kind of works – a small invasion force would be a heck of a distraction for the American government agents, making it more convincing that Elliott and E.T. could escape in the chaos. Flying bikes aren’t really inconspicuous, you know.
Top Gun (1986)
What would change? Maverick, Goose, Iceman and all the rest aren’t just attending Top Gun Academy for the heck of it – there’s a legitimate threat of war with North Korea. That climactic dogfight with vaguely anonymous, hostile MiGs isn’t just a one-off fight – it’s actually the first battle in an international conflict.
Does it make the movie better? Yes, yes, yes. The whole movie essentially becomes Starship Troopers without the overt satire. Plus the long-awaited sequel, once seemingly inconsequential, now becomes completely necessary.
Die Hard (1988)
What would change? All right, bear with me here. In the original, Hans Gruber’s evil plot is to conceal a major heist under the guise of a terrorist attack, right? What if we switched Gruber and his gang to a pack of North Koreans and reversed the plot, so that they appear to be pulling a bank heist, when in fact, their ultimate goal is a nefarious, destructive act of terrorism? It makes about the same amount of sense.
Does it make the movie better? Difficult to say. The only important thing about a Die Hard film is whether Bruce Willis is allowed to swear or not, anyway.
Sixteen Candles (1984)
What would change? Long Duk Dong, foreign exchange student of nebulously Asian nationality, is definitively identified as hailing from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Does it make the movie better? Nope. Everything in the film stays pretty much exactly the same, which, when it comes to this character, is to say extremely racist.
My Dinner with Andre (1981)
What would change? During a half-hour monologue on his insane spiritual experiences, experimental theater director Andre Gregory relates a tale of wandering into North Korea and encountering a cult of Kim il-Sung worshippers to dinner companion Wallace Shawn.
Does it make the movie better? I don’t know if it makes it any better, but the sheer weirdness of it would certainly make me about a hundred times more likely to watch this movie again.
What would change? Move the small, uptight Midwestern town setting to the suburbs of Pyongyang, and switch Chicago-raised Kevin to South Korean sensation Psy. The borderline insane K-pop star can teach the villagers to open their hearts and minds through the power of pretending to ride a horse.
Does it make the movie better? I may be old school, but I’d rather dance to “Footloose” than “Gangnam Style” any day. At the very least though, we’ve created the next viral Internet sensation.
Return of the Jedi (1983)
What would change? The nefarious Empire, led by Sith lord Darth Sidius, is replaced by Space North Korea, led by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.
Does it make the movie better? …now my brain just hurts. Please let no one be getting any ideas for Episode VII.