North Korea warned of a “super mighty preemptive strike” if the U.S. messes with the Hermit Kingdom. Maybe Kim Jong Un watched one too many movies. While the U.S. and North Korea have not traded artillery fire in real life since the end of the Korean War, the two countries have sparred on the silver screen many times over the last decade. Here is an overview of some of the most serious cinematic confrontations.
7. Pork Chop Hill (1959)
This 1959 movie is a retelling of one of the most intense battles of the Korean War. In truth, the enemy attacking the isolated U.S. position was Chinese infantry, but the whole mess would have never happened if North Korea hadn’t invaded South Korea to begin with. At the time, the New York Times review lauded the film as “grim and rugged.” As a classic war film, Pork Chop Hill still holds up well.
6. The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
Korea was more than a forgotten land war. The air war was pretty intense as well, as captured in this 1954 film based on the novel about the Navy pilots tasked to take out a heavily defended bridge site. You don’t see many North Koreans, but they are definitely the bad guys and the Americans are the valiant white hats.
When news comes back to the aircraft carrier that the hero was killed by North Korean and Chinese soldiers after his plane was downed by enemy antiaircraft fire, the flight commander asks, “Where do we get such men?” The film features some fantastic scenes of aerial dogfighting and (for the day) pretty good special effects.
5. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The son of a prominent right-wing political family is captured during the Korean War and brainwashed by the Chinese who turn him into a political assassin. While the 1962 film is classic Cold War paranoia on steroids, it played on contemporary concerns that American prisoners of war were actually tortured and brainwashed.
Despite the far-fetched plot, the film is worth watching, described by the National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Yes, there was a remake in 2004. Yes, it was dreadful.
4. Die Another Day (2002)
As the Cold War waned, North Korea didn’t get all that much attention as a stock movie enemy. That changed after 9/11. When the top cinema enemy wasn’t Islamist terrorists it was usually North Korea. It was not too surprising that the far-off dictatorship took the stage as a top evil-doer. The country’s emerging nuclear program put it on the map as part of Bush’s Axis of Evil.
In 2002, even James Bond got in the act of acting-out North Korea angst. This film boasts one of the most convoluted plots of any Bond movie, with North Korean agents partnering with terrorists in brokering “blood” diamonds or some such nonsense. Still, the movie has violence, cool gadgets, dashing men and handsome women — all the stuff you expect from “Bond, James Bond.” Needless to say, the North Korean government protested against the film.
3. Team America—World Police (2004)
This 2004 action comedy featured marionettes protecting the planet against a terrorist plot masterminded by Kim Jong-il. What is remarkable is how Americans kept their sense of humor while still recovering from the shock of 9/11 and waking up to the reality that they were now living in a more dangerous world.
Tasteless in virtually every respect, the film is hilarious and definitely worth watching. Probably why it did such a great box office.
2. Red Dawn (2012)
This 2012 remake of an invasion of America sees the heartland occupied by a heartless North Korean army. The film’s debut virtually crowned North Korea as the only politically correct enemy that could be the bad guy in every film without fear of offending any potential movie audience. Sadly, the film doesn’t have the originality and emotional impact of the first film. Still, it is fine mindless entertainment.
1. The Interview (2014)
After decades of being Hollywood’s punching bag, North Korea struck back. The production of this film about a haywired plot to assassinate the leader of the country provoked a devastating cyber attack against Sony, the parent company producing the film.
As tensions escalate between the U.S. and North Korea, hopefully conflict will remain confined to the silver screen. It remains to be seen if the U.S. strategy of “maximum pressure and engagement” keeps a lid on Kim Jong Un. Odds are a shooting war is the last thing any side wants.