Thoughts on Summer Blockbuster “Pacific Rim” in China

01 Aug 2013

Last night I went to see the movie Pacific Rim at Shanghai’s newest, biggest mall, Global Harbor. My hopes were not super high, but I ended up really enjoying the film. I had totally forgotten that it was directed by Guillermo del Toro; I think it was suddenly seeing Ron Perlman’s face in the movie amongst all the other relatively unknown actors that reminded me. Anyway, very fun movie.

Pacific Rim Locandina

A few things struck me about seeing the film in China:

1. The Chinese mech dies first. This is kind of a shame, not because they’re Chinese, but because their badass red, four-armed robot with buzz-saws for hands looked awesome, and I would have liked to watch it do a little more damage in battle. This didn’t really seem to bother the audience, though; the Chinese mech pilots weren’t even really characters in the movie… easy come, easy go.

2. The human characters in the movie use the Japanese term kaiju (怪獣) for the giant monsters they’re fighting. This was kind of interesting. The (simplified) Chinese is 怪兽. (Another common word for “monster” in Chinese is 怪物.)

3. The Hong Kong Chinese are experts at dicing up the kaiju (giant monster) corpses and selling the parts on the black market (as “medicine”?). There is discussion of the going rates for ground kaiju bones and various kaiju organs. This struck me as both a funny stereotype as well as somewhat insightful.

What do you think? Racist? Or would the biological matter derived from monsters from another dimension totally be worked into the black market, extreme fringes of TCM relatively quickly?

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. Funny – I went to see this with some friends last night by way of a going-away thing. Had some of the same reactions, though I thought that the kaiju-bones-for-boner-pills thing was predictable but still pretty funny. They did pass up the chance to talk about what Cantonese cuisine would do with rare kaiju meat, at least.

    • Interesting choice of “going away movie”! I hope Dave was there, cheering on the latest work of one of his favorite directors? (Would love to hear his analysis… I miss those discussions.)

  2. It is well known that the flesh of monsters from another dimension has always been an important ingredient of several TCM treatments. It cures frozen shoulder, Ebola Zaire, and hang nails, as well as prevents exploding earlobes.

  3. I think more than just Chinese would be using kaiju parts for whatever they could make a buck.

  4. To be honest, I would certainly expect kaiju parts to get incorporated into TCM. I’d also expect the markets to end up flooded with fake parts looking to make some cash — just as there are many fake dragon bones and even counterfeits of real-world medicinal animals on the market.

    It’s not racist, so long as it’s understand that we’re talking about elements of traditional Chinese medicine, and not something about all Chinese people or that all Chinese people would necessarily believe.

  5. highonprose Says: August 1, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    I enjoyed the film for what it was, but even so: for most of the time, ancient monsters rose from the deep to take over Hong Kong. And even though the Russian and Chinese characters were touted as renowned experts, their skills were revealed to be one-dimensional, and they were dispatched before they could utter a line of dialogue. All in all, the allegorical subtext was thicker than kaiju acid. (Though I’m disappointed the kaiju didn’t drink baiju.)

    • to be fair the Russian girl did get out one line something along the lines of o crap o crap we’re so screwed.

  6. Thanks for the spoiler warning asshole! I am watching the movie tonight…

  7. Douglas Boyle Says: August 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    Hey guys. Im living in Zhuhai. Have been for about 6 months.
    John thanks heaps mate. Listen to you everyday… countless hours.
    Can communicate here because of you guys.
    Anyway saw this about 2 days ago.
    Second time in a cinema in china.
    I thought it was really cool. Love how it had lots of Hong Kong scenes in it…. though Hong Kong is so close to me, its like hey, i didnt see those monsters and robots the other day in Xiang1 gang3. 🙂

  8. I’m not sure I’d cry racist on it. I’d be more sympathetic over the failure of Del Toro to break free of Hollywood cliches like Nolan or Whedon have recently done with Dark Knight Rises and Avengers.

    It’s also kinda a childish antic for an american movie to kill off the Russians and Chinese first wouldn’t you say? Also since about that time was when Australia “sold out” by signing on to trade directly in RMB instead of just USD it wasn’t too hard to understand why the Aussies were asses and why their big robot fails hard and then why the son dies.

    But I think the saddest part of this movie was that they had a great chance to make a useful leading lady character since she had to be the American Hero’s copilot and then they make her just another damsel in distress and worse than that the exotic princess from the orient damsel in distress that he has to protect. I’d have loved it if the movie let Mako be Raleigh’s partner and not just some chick sitting shotgun to watch him in all his awesome manliness. That whole part only made me love and respect Dark Knight Rises and Avengers more. It was so satisfying to watch a mostly helpless Batman get upstaged by Anne Hathaway who even kills off the main bad guy in 2 seconds flat AND delivering the punch line. And I mean Joss Whedon’s never been shy about his feminism but there’s nothing in the media quite like Black Widow getting the drop on her marks by pretending to be the weak little girl.

    Hopefully somebody else can take a shot at this and do a good job.

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