Bowing to the Box Office, Red Dawn Switches from Chinese to North Korean Villains

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In fear of offending the Chinese moviegoing population, MGM has changed the villains the upcoming remake of its 1984 cult movie Red Dawn. Now it’s North Korean armed forces stomping around, not Chinese troops.

The original film, which starred Patrick Swayze and launched the career of a 19-year-old Charlie Sheen, tells the story of the Russian army invading a town in the Midwest. The Soviets are eventually forced out by a bunch of guerrila teenagers calling themselves “Wolverines.”

(More on TIME.com: See TIME’s favorite Chinese films)

Filmed in 2009 in Michigan and set to be released last November, the Red Dawn remake was put on hiatus while MGM addressed its grave financial problems. The producers needed a modern substitute for the Soviet invaders and they thought of China, a country that tends to be, well, easily offended. Potential for a gargantuan backlash was sky high, as several potential distributors commented after watching private screenings.

Even if it currently allows only a trickle of foreign movies into the country – about 20 each year – China is contributing large chunks of Hollywood’s revenue. In 2010, the Los Angeles Times reports, the box office grossed $1.5 billion, the fifth largest foreign market.

Coincidentally (or not?), a mid-sized Chinese airline recently expressed an interest in purchasing a stake in MGM, to finally relieve it from its financial troubles. Hainan Airlines, in which George Soros has a 15% stake, would seek a deal through a partner, since it has no experience in the entertainment industry. MGM however just refinanced its treasure-chest with a $500 million investment. No matter the real motivation, MGM decided to switch the Chinese bad guys to North Korean ones.

The changes cost MGM less than $1 million, and the money was mostly spent to reshoot the initial sequence with the explanatory background and digitally erase as many references to the Chinese military as possible. But the studio itself admitted that it will be impossible to switch every China reference to something North Korean.

If North Korea suddenly becomes an ally, what should MGM do? NewsFeed elects to submit an humble opinion (stolen from a wittier Twitterer): resort to space aliens. They are the only ones that Hollywood doesn’t really mind offending. Yet. (Via LA Times)

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