Whenever a new action movie (or any other action related on-screen entertainment) comes out,  one aspect that the entertainment industry seems to be in favor of is the concept of this bizarre war between the USA and Russia. However, it’s not so much Russia, a country defined by its history and boarders, but Russia, a country where Hollywood has a tendency to visualize as this despicable monster that threatens all liberty and freedom. This concept of war between the two countries can be seen in films starting from Red Dawn, a fictional movie based on a story about the Soviet Union invading the United States, to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, where the story revolves around the US and British Special Forces stopping a Russian terrorist from attacking the United States with nuclear weapons.

Not only do we see this in action films, but we can also see this type of national characterization in comedy ones as well. From a western standpoint, comedy and politics can go hand in hand. Take shows like The Daily Show or the Charlie Chaplin classic The Great Dictator. The entertainment industry loves taking current events and turning them into stories. It doesn’t matter if it’s comedy, action, or drama; if there’s an antagonist involved, someone will find a way to turn that story into this dramatic yet breathtaking world that tugs at our hearts and minds. A most recent example of this is The Interview.

The plot of the movie follows two celebrity journalists (played by James Franco and Seth Rogen) as they enter The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to interview the country’s leader, Kim Jung-un. At the same time, the two characters are also hired by the CIA to assassinate the leader during their time in North Korea.

Of course, North Korea did not take this too well. According to The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), via International Business Times, the movie represents “…a most wanton act of terror and act of war, and is absolutely intolerable.” The country even went as far as filing a formal complaint against the producing film studio, the White House, and the UN. So far, no party has publicly commented if they would respond to North Korea’s complaint.

It is a bit jarring to see a story that fictionalizes a real-life political leader’s assassination. Regardless of North Korea’s standing in the political arena, people need to analyze how politics and entertainment interact, and then decide for themselves if it is merely harmless fiction or tasteless products that only serve to make a cheap profit. With that in mind, here are a few other examples of how both the American and Korean entertainment industries have portrayed North Korea in their media.

Team America: World Police

Team America: World Police

Team America might arguably be the most satirical movie ever made that involved North Korea. The story follows a group of American spies who battle against terrorists organized by the late Kim Jong-il. Given that this movie was done by the creators of South Park,Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it was expected that the same type of humor would be heavily infused in the movie. It was not only Kim Jong-il that took the brunt of insults, but also a good amount of politically left-wing personalities and Hollywood celebrities as well. Parker and Stone made a statement with this movie: even the most active humanitarians and despotic rulers can be ridiculed in the same manner.

Homefront

Homefront

A video game created by Kaos Studios and published by THQ, the game’s campaign is set in an alternate universe where the two Koreas have unified as one nation and is now invading the United States. A story that is most similar to Red Dawn, it is pure alpha-male militaristic entertainment through and through.

The video game industry is a bit of an exception to the entertainment industry as a whole. While wanting to be taken seriously as a type of artistic interactive media, it still has more freedom to explore social and political topics. At the end of the day, when it comes down to the stories in video games, the fact that they’re only being known as “a game,” shades the medium with a more comical tone. Of course there are exceptions to this statement, but when talking about those heavy blockbuster games such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, any type of social or political allegory is normally not associated with them. Even if someone were to make the connection, it is usually placed aside next to all the button mashing and “Aw man that was sweet!” moments.

Silmido

Silmido

In South Korea, there have been numerous movies and shows that’s involved North Korea, North Korean defectors, sleeper agents, or any other type of North Korean characters that we can think of. Although there are many other great action/drama productions from the South Korean entertainment industry, I chose Silmido for a couple of reasons.

First of all, the movie chooses to follow the character development of the people stuck in the crossfire of a sporadic war between the two nations: after an incursion of North Korean Special Forces into South Korea with a mission to assassinate the South Korean president, a group of South Korean convicts are given a second chance to redeem themselves by undergoing training for a mission. The objective is to infiltrate North Korea and assassinate Kim Il-sung. Unfortunately the government’s diplomatic goals do not coincide with the changing political culture of the world.  In order to avoid embarrassment within the global community, the administration chooses to disavow the secret military unit and the members of the team meet a tragic end.

Secondly, Silmido chooses to develop its story around the failings of the two nations on the Korean Peninsula, and how their citizens end up paying the price for their political leaders’ decisions. The South Korean film industry decided to take the Hollywood path with their representation of North Korea, taking inspiration from movies such as Shiri and The Berlin File, which both stand as Michael Bay-style summer hits. While this movie does have some juicy action bits, the real content is in how we see these convicts change into patriots.  Unfortunately, tragedy hits our hearts when we discover that there are power players sitting in comfy armchairs controlling these men’s fates. As the movie comes to an end, we can only think of the characters’ fates as the most heartbreaking and unfortunate set of circumstances during a time of guerrilla warfare and dictatorial governments.

Looking at these forms of entertainment, it might be tempting to go the easy route and say that film studios just want to make the next billion-dollar hit, regardless of the quality or authenticity of the plot or characters. That can be true for C-rated straight-to-video films.  But for every Team America, there will always be a countless number of critics who will analyze these movies and the political connections that can be made from them. These types of discussions are what create a democratic society. For good or for bad, these creations need to exist to fuel the discussion of who the villain really is. At the same time it can give us a release of the constant cycle of breaking news events, while still being a story about homegrown curiosity, resilience, and hope. In conclusion, if the dude from 300 wants to save the White House and the President, sure. I’m down.