North Korea invading America may be one of least likely news items this year, but it is the step one Hollywood studio has taken in a bid to mollify Chinese audiences. It describes the plot of Red Dawn, just released in the US. MGM had originally planned for the film’s villains to be Chinese. That was before the studio, already troubled by its slide into financial difficulties, provoked an outcry in China when on-set photographs of the nation’s fictional conquest of America were leaked. When the powers that be realised that Hollywood blockbusters could expect to make millions of dollars in China so long as they satisfied the Beijing censors, the film was edited in post-production and the North Koreans became the enemy. MGM’s backpedalling indicates the continued willingness of the American film industry to forsake artistic control in return for access to an overseas market that is estimated to be worth over $2bn.
Such rampant cynicism on behalf of the studios makes for a great story. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year on a number of occasions when Hollywood had similarly “appeased China.” A group of skilful Chinese engineers wound up in the film adaptation of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, despite never appearing in the original novel. In Battleship, timely intelligence was provided by the Chinese on the nature of an alien invasion force. Similarly, the disaster film 2012 had the Americans celebrating Chinese scientists for designing an ark credited with saving civilisation. These endorsements are carefully planned. Forbes recently profiled Dan Mintz, co-founder of DMG, an American marketing company with Chinese ties. DMG has done very well from advising production studios on how to ensure their film is one of the 34 foreign releases screened per year in China—typically by portraying the country in a favourable light.