6 American Characters In Foreign Films (Tested for Accuracy)
America cinema gets a lot of flak for how it portrays foreigners. The bad guys are always strangely British, Hollywood can't get foreign languages right, and plots are always arranged so that oppressed groups can only stop being oppressed if they have an American leading them. But how do our international brethren portray Americans in their movies? It can be hard to tell, because while the fruits of Hollywood are exported all over the world, foreign movies aren't exactly fighting their way onto our screens. But don't worry: I've collected a bunch of international films that feature at least one American character, and made notes on how accurate they are. Next time you're traveling overseas, you might be compared to the people in ...
Love Actually (England, 2003)
Out of all the movies on this list, this British romantic comedy was the most popular in America. But in case you missed it, here's the most important America-related plotline: an English guy named Colin spends the first half of the movie dreaming about going to the USA so he can pick up women using his charming British accent. His friend mocks him, claiming that no amount of exotic voice-words will make up for his unremarkable looks and personality. Colin finally makes it to the U.S., and the twist is that there is no twist: the American women he meets adore his accent and all want to sleep with him.
There's also a plot about a lecherous American president played by Billy Bob Thornton, but let's pretend that never happened.But Is It Accurate?
To figure this one out I went right to the source, and interviewed an Englishman who's lived in America for several years. Over a nostalgic lunch of teeth-and-kidney sausages and sheep's-foot stew, I asked him about the accuracy of the Love Actually scene. I was immediately assured that it was 100 percent true. According to Mr. British, the simple act of ordering food or buying groceries in America has gotten him looked at by surrounding women "in a way that made me bitterly resent not moving to America when I was 16." I couldn't get any further details because he was then dragged away by a group of adoring Americans and warm beer spilled everywhere, but it was all I needed to know.
Accuracy Rating: 9/10
The Night Baghdad Fell (Egypt, 2005)
This comedy chronicles the reactions of normal Egyptians to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Everyone in the movie is afraid that Egypt will be next on the invasion list, and the protagonist, a school headmaster, starts having repeated nightmares about American soldiers storming his home. In a sequence of events that I'm sure makes sense if you're familiar with Egyptian comedy, all the male characters react to this invasion fear by becoming impotent. Eventually, one newlywed wife has an idea: the next time she and her husband go to bed together, she dresses up as an American soldier and calls herself "Jack." Once again, I'm sure it makes sense if you're really into the Egyptian cinematic comedy scene of the early 2000s.
"Let's play 'invade the' -- no, too easy. Let's play 'aim your rifle at the' -- nope. Look, let's just have sex."
Anyway, it works: the husband's penis comes to life like a flower after a spring rain, and suddenly the movie is showing us a montage of a half-dozen Egyptian wives all pretending to be male soldiers in bed (it's at the 70-minute mark):But Is It Accurate?
OK, I'm guessing that the film is making some sort of commentary on the fragile state of masculinity created by Egypt's traditional hyper-patriarchal society, in which male self-worth becomes so dependent on a rigid idea of sexual dominance that a political event in another country is enough to render men ready to star in a Cialis commercial. But I'm pretty sure that for most women, a guy asking her to put on a military uniform and call herself "Jack" would raise a bunch of red flags completely unrelated to "our nation's sociosexual politics."
"Babe, I just want to fantasize about marrying you and getting reliable military health insurance."
As for the accuracy of the American characters being portrayed by the cross-dressing wives, I'd have to give this part a low rating. Those boots are absurd, the flags are wrong, and everyone has duct tape wrapped around their helmets for some reason. Ridiculous. The husbands should not have stood for it. Hehehe, "stood."
Accuracy Rating: 4/10
My Name Is Khan (India, 2010)
It's another War-on-Terror-themed movie, this time about Rizwan Khan, an Indian Muslim with Asperger's syndrome who emigrates to the United States in the 1990s. He soon marries and settles down, but after 9/11, his ethnic background and personality quirks (he is incapable of lying; he's afraid of the color yellow) cause suspicion among his American neighbors that he might be up to something shady and terrorist-y. Khan embarks on a quest to meet President Bush and assure him that he's never personally done any terrorism. Not a single terrorism.
"Also, we're in a Bollywood movie, so you might want to prepare yourself for my 10-minute, 'not-a-terrorist' dance sequence."
This movie gets many things right. For example, Khan is constantly getting scared by the color yellow, and I can confirm that there is a lot of yellow in America. The movie's opening scenes, in which Khan is manhandled and interrogated by TSA agents until he misses his flight, is depressingly accurate. But other bits don't really live up to that promise: at one point, Khan tries to attend a dinner to meet President Bush, only to be rejected when an attendant informs him it's a "Christians-only event." In real life, as soon as she said those words the ACLU would have swept in and shot up the place with bullets made of ground-up nativity scenes.
Another issue is the guy's name. It's a big deal in the movie that Americans reflexively associate the surname "Khan" with Islam. At one point, Khan's wife, a Hindu, exclaims that if she hadn't married him and her name had remained a Hindu one, they wouldn't have faced such awful discrimination. It's a touchingly rosy view of bigotry, assuming that anti-Muslims sit down with an onomastics book every Wednesday night and research ethnic surnames, just so they don't accidentally yell "towelhead" at the wrong person and commit an awful faux pas. In reality, I imagine that in most of America, the only added disadvantage of having the "Khan" surname rather than a Hindu one would be all the people yelling Star Trek jokes at you.
"Yes, it just gets more hilarious every single time you scream my name like that. Can we go back to abusing me about 9/11 now?"
Accuracy Rating: 6/10
Godzilla vs. Biollante (Japan, 1989)
Godzilla vs. Biollante was that one movie where they create a giant rose-monster out of Godzilla's own DNA, and then Godzilla fights the giant rose-monster. You know the one.
"Oh, THAT one."
Between rose-fighting scenes, though, there's a subplot about an American genetics research company, Bio-Major, trying to steal Godzilla's cells in order to ... build their own Godzilla, I guess? Splice them with bald eagle cells so the world can finally have a Godzilla vs. American Godzilla showdown? I'm not sure. Anyway, Bio-Major sends some hilariously incompetent American mercenaries to do this, and honestly, after a lifetime of sinister Middle Eastern henchmen and endless German terrorists, it's pretty impressive to have Americans as the faceless villains for once.
Unfortunately, the acting suffers from the "there weren't many foreign people around when we were casting" problem that pops up in a lot of Asian movies, where it looks like the casting director just grabbed the first tourist they found off the street and offered them some beer money to stand in front of a camera and yell in English. In fact, I'm pretty sure the main American bad guy isn't American at all, since he speaks all his English lines with a heavy Japanese accent. Godzilla vs. Biollante tries to make up for this deficiency by having all the American characters wear hats like these:
I hope if they ever make that bald eagle Godzilla, he also wears this hat.
I can confirm that Americans wear those hats at all times, so points for that. On the other hand, the American villain constantly breaks out into Japanese, even when he's talking to himself, and I've never seen an American do that except at an anime convention.
Accuracy Rating: 5/10
The Host (Korea, 2006)
This Korean monster movie is about a giant mutant creature that appears in the Han River in Seoul and starts eating people. How did it get there? Pollution from an American military base. That's a pretty anti-American theme for a movie (even if it is very loosely based on a real incident), so you'd expect any American characters to be treated about as fairly as Bob Cratchit's character in An Objectivist Christmas Carol. But then this happens:
The American's starring role starts around three minutes in, but if you can't watch the scene, the monster is rampaging through a crowd of terrified people at the banks of the Han River. Amid the multitudes running away in pants-ruining terror, a random American bystander takes charge, first saving a bunch of people trapped by the creature and then distracting it when it goes to eat others. The guy is eventually eaten for his troubles.
It's my personal opinion that this silly movie about a CGI river monster has captured an integral part of America way better than the serious, "realistic" movies on this list. How? Well, here's a thought experiment: Put a bunch of people of different nationalities in a kitchen, and then set the oven and the toaster on fire. What will happen? Some of those people will run away. Some will debate the best way of putting the fire out. Some will stare into the fire and start a passionate monologue about how this proves that all the world's glories end up as ashes (looking at you, Russia). But if any one of those nationalities was going to rush forward and start swinging their fists in an attempt to punch the fire to death? That would be the American.
And thus began the Global War on Fire.
You can criticize America for a lot of things, but "standing back and not doing anything while stuff goes wrong" is not one of them. Sometimes this national character trait means defeating Nazis, and sometimes it means charging weak and completely unarmed against a Korean river monster.
Accuracy Rating: 9.5/10
Unsung Heroes (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, 1978)
In Unsung Heroes, a 20-hour, North Korean spy thriller, American capitalist spies plot to bring down the reign of Our Glorious Leader Kim Il-Sung. Also known literally as Nameless Heroes, the movie was hugely popular in its home country, presumably because there's not much to do in North Korea except watch 20-hour spy thrillers. A typical confrontation between an American colonel and some sort of spy chief is shown in the clip below:
If the bald guy looks familiar, it's because he's being played by infamous America-to-North-Korea defector Charles Robert Jenkins. For decades, most of the "white people" roles in North Korean cinema were taken by defectors, because North Korea had even less foreign actors to choose from than the makers of Godzilla vs. Biollante and also because in North Korea, if people ask you to do a job, you don't say no.
That YouTube clip is dubbed into Korean, but if you turn on the closed captioning, you'll see that the actors and director have done an almost miraculous job of capturing the subtle nuances of the American English dialect:
As well as the poignancy of love that was forbidden in the intolerant American military of the 1970s:
This is undoubtedly the most accurate America-related thing that I have ever seen.
Accuracy Rating: 10/10
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For more from C. Coville, check out The 4 Most Insane Overreactions to Bad Online Reviews and 5 People in History Who Were Terrible at Their Jobs.
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