Pacific Rim Text Review

Even faking it requires some degree of truth…

Imitating how people from other cultures act is not an easy task to do even when giant robots and monsters are involved.

Hello this is a Korean in America. Since the 70s, Japanese and Hong Kong entertainment have influenced generations in the U.S.
A lot of elements of those movies have trickled into Hollywood movie over the years.
However, some have never connected with main stream America audiences such as robots and monsters.
This week there is a valid attempt to correct this injustice.  It is Pacific Rim, a movie where giant robots fights giant monsters.

Pacific Rim is one of the most entertaining CG heavy blockbusters to come out this summer. From the voices online, many others seem to agree with this sentiment.  But it is also a flawed movie.   There are serious problems with the character development material which make the movie clunky especially in the first 40 minutes. Among the many online reviews, I have not encountered any that really get to the heart of the problem which evident to a native Asian like myself.
Pacific Rim is a movie that trying to imitate the characters in a Japanese movie genre using western actors. This different from the normal Hollywood practice of turning non-Caucasian characters into Caucasian. 

It is evident that Pacific Rim is the product of an individual who is a fan of a culture which is not his own and doesn't fully understand that culture. So, the movie is confused about its identity. For the first 40 minutes or so, it resembles a Japanese film. Then, around the hour mark, it starts to tone down the Japanese elements and feels more like a Hollywood movie. This is the best part. At the end it becomes Armageddon. While the shift is subtle, it makes the movie feel disjointed.

I'm not talking about the robots and monsters.
Imitating the external genre tropes and characters are relatively easy even across different cultures. You see this in many cases when Asian movie makers try to make Hollywood type movies. However, the characters never feel the same as their Hollywood counterparts. Hollywood wood character archetypes are specific to the cultural context they were created in. Their motivations, how they interact with other characters, and how they fit into overall plot are specific to North American culture. The director understands how to use them, the actors understand how to play them, and the audience understands the whole thing without even trying.

In Pacific Rim, the characters are subtly written to be like Japanese movie and animation character archetypes which are based on family ties. This may not be easy to spot since the movie does not rub your nose in it using cultural clichés. But you can get a glimpse of this from the fact that most of the cast is structured into family units. You have the father and son Jaeger team, the brother Jaeger team. You have the adopted daughter and father relationship, the pseudo father and son relationship between the male lead and the general. You even have pseudo incestuous relationship between the male and female leads based on their connection with the General.

While family do play a significant role in Hollywood character archetypes, characters are more autonomous in nature and their relationships are less rigid representing the culture. In contrast, Japanese character archetypes are much more bounded to family ties. 
For example, the father/son relationship.
Here you have the father and son team with the complicated relationship. There are many father/son relationships represented by Hollywood movies. However, they are usually divided into either the good or bad son dynamics and the father and son are never psychologically inter-dependent to the degree shown in Pacific Rim. However, this is common to Asian movies.

Another example would be the adopted daughter and father relationship.
In Pacific Rim, there is a distance between the obviously caring characters. The movie actually never mentions that the General adopted the female lead. It only states that the General raised her. In Hollywood movies and North American culture, adoption is more accepted and natural. So, in movies, whether the relationship be good or bad, there is not much discrimination between biological and adopted relationships. This is not the same in Asian cultures in which biological links are viewed to be more important. Even the best adopted relationships are shown to have this gap that is difficult to cross in Asian movies.

Pacific Rim is filled with Japanese characters cast to be American. And what a bad job they did with casting. None of the actors seem to understand their characters, which is not surprising since they lack the cultural basis to draw upon. It doesn’t help that most of the actors look like Caucasian meat heads.

Even the actual Japanese actress has a difficult time with her character being written like a teenager and her English lines. She should have just spoken Japanese the whole time.
The best casting was the scientists which is revealing. Since the only real American or British character archetypes are the scientists.

 Idris Elba who is awesome does not fit into the role. The general is a pseudo father of the whole cast but he plays it more like a typical black cop captain. Awesome but laud. At the end he had to drag all the awkward characters along with his awesomeness alone. So, Idris Elba’s casting was the not good but at the same time the best casting in the movie.  Without him, the movie would be a bigger mess.

Pacific Rim is the best when it is not trying to make its characters not pretend to be Japanese characters at their cores. This happens when we really get to see the giant robots in action. So, be prepare for some clunky character interaction in the beginning but it get much better afterwards. 
Pacific Rim is worth it!


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