Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Dropping "Captain America" from Captain America (UPDATED)


Well, it turns out that in Australia they changed one of the taglines in the trailer to make it a little less America-centric.

In the US version, it says, "Heroes are made in America." But in the South Korean trailer, it was changed to, “When evil rises, a hero will stand.”

And since the Korea-bashing kvetchpats — those who saw Paramount's Korea distributors dropping Captain America from the title as a sign that Korea is an underserving, America-hating "ally" and that the US should leave South Korea to be gobbled up by China — are nothing if not fair and balanced, then no doubt we will hear equally loud and angry criticisms of Australia, right? Right?

Over at the New York Times, a media reporter tells us that South Korea is one of only three countries (Russia and Ukraine being the other two) where marketers will drop "Captain America" from the title of Captain America: The First Avenger:
South Korea is another story. Although that country is one of Hollywood’s top-performing territories, resentment about the continued presence of the United States military runs deep. Marvel and Paramount worry that those feelings are particularly strong among younger South Koreans, the ones who powered “Iron Man 2” to $27 million in ticket sales in that country last year.
Frankly, this is a journalistically lazy and highly misleading statement. A reader might get the impression that the vast majority of South Koreans feel bitter indignation toward the US military being in their country but perhaps cannot get them to leave. A lingering han moment.

In fact, there is a small segment of South Korean society that feels this way, the chinboistas, and they regularly make their views known through persistent demonstrations that also attack government and corporate policy (with some of them simultaneously overtly or covertly supporting the Pyongyang position). The majority of the population, however, feels something considerably more positive and a bit more complex.

Most South Koreans are appreciative of the US role in helping keep South Korea safe and the region stable. This is sometimes tempered, however, by annoyance when the US military or its personnel are involved in violent crimes or environmental degradation, among other things. And while that sometimes bubbles into angry sentiment amongst the general population, especially if the persistent chinboistas have done their job properly, it is mostly aimed at the individual situation and not USFK presence itself.

Any wisdom to taking "Captain America" off the title of the movie, if in fact that is a wise thing, comes from something else. In fact, there is also a longstanding and persistent impression of American arrogance (which draws resentment when it leads to, say, President Bush pushing its South Korean allies to send troops to Iraq to participate in a war most oppose), even as so many South Koreans see the United States as an ally and a country to aspire to or even stay in for a while (or permanently).

Koreans paying their W10,000 for a movie may get a little tired of seeing America always playing the triumphant victor. Look at how many blockbusters involve some theme like that: Independence Day, Pearl Harbor (though that's sorta unavoidable), even Top Gun. Even The Last Samurai requires an American to come in and tell the 19th century Japanese what's what.

And if you think it's only South Koreans who feel this way, you're sorely mistaken (I can't even count how many times I've had this conversation with my Japanese friends here in Hawaii or Korea).

But so what? South Koreans have just accepted that that's the way Hollywood works. Hollywood also self-corrects, to a degree, with movies like Fahrenheit 911, which did brisk business in Korea in the middle of the last decade. And even the Hollywood films that have an overall positive spin on America, often temper this with the downside of Washington or suburbia or whatever. In fact, that was the theme of another movie with the country's name in the title, American Beauty.

So the NYT columnist has it wrong. Iron Man 2, doesn't have $27 million in South Korean ticket sales despite resentment toward the United States military. Rather, it did well simply because it was good, and because, at heart, South Koreans are generally upbeat on the US (and maybe that's why the response is so harsh when USFK or Washington seems to do them wrong).

And it also helps when South Korea is not depicted by Hollywood as a disease-carrying backwater where Americans should feel free to have sex in Buddhist shrines. If you ever want to lose money on a picture, it's the content, not the title, that you have to worry about. I just hope the Nazi-era Captain America doesn't depict Korea as an ally of Japan. Then we'll all do just fine.

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