Korean TRON

By Ed Glaser | Monday, December 13, 2010

Does TRON have a scantily-clad lady pirate? This one does!

Deja View is a Telly Award-winning series that explores foreign remakes of popular American films.

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Greetings, programs! Imagine if you will the secret, neon computer world of cyberspace. Deep within that world is a dark arena where two opponents face off in a deadly game of digital jai alai. For the winner: the chance to fight on the game grid another day. For the loser: a very long drop.

But far from being a cutting edge mix of digital effects and live action, this is 100% Korean animation.

So boot up and prepare for that familiar feeling of Deja View.

When Disney’s groundbreaking science fiction film “Tron” opened in 1982 with its state-of-the-art computer graphics, it was actually only a modest financial success. However its cultural impact was undeniable. So much so, that the very next year a Korean animated film was released which was “virtually” the same movie.

The film in question is “Computer Haekjeonham Pokpa Daejakjeon” — or “Savior of the Earth” as it was released internationally. It tells the story of a lab assistant named Keith who is sucked into a computer world and forced to play videogames for his very life by the insidious mastermind Dr. Butler.

In 1945, after 35 years of Japanese occupation, South Korea implemented a ban on all Japanese cultural products. This ban lasted more than 50 years and included everything from literature to anime. Nevertheless, a number of South Korean animation companies began producing their own films with copycat versions of famous anime characters from series like “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Macross.” But “Savior of the Earth” sets itself apart by borrowing from an American source.

“Tron” fans will immediately notice many elements that have been lifted wholesale from the film: the videogames, the identity discs, Sark’s flying carrier, and even a dead ringer for Sark himself.

Even Pac-Man makes a cameo in both films.

“Tron’s” famous light cycle battles, however, are replaced with more traditional car races. And something “Tron” doesn’t have is a small mechanical girl and a one-eyed lady pirate.

There are some clear cultural differences as well. “Tron” is in part a reflection of American corporate culture in the 1980s, often tagged the “Decade of Greed.” In the film, an unscrupulous ENCOM employee has stolen the hero Flynn’s original programs and used them to climb the corporate ladder. This forces Flynn to engage in a little corporate espionage that ultimately lands him inside the digital world.

That kind of premise was less relevant in contemporary South Korea, where corporate culture was heavily influenced by Confucianism and collectivism. And as “Savior of the Earth” was aimed specifically at children, the villain was substituted with a more generic mad scientist bent on world domination.

Another interesting difference is the social value each film places on videogames themselves. In “Tron”, Flynn is an avid gamer, an arcade owner, and a videogame programmer. All of these are shown to be positive traits, and his skills are what allow him to survive in the computer world.

It’s a very different story in “Savior of the Earth.” Even though Keith’s videogame habit still saves the lives of him and his friends, it is nevertheless consistently treated as a character flaw. And whereas “Tron’s” Flynn made a career in games, Keith frequently shirks his responsibilities in order to goof off at the arcade.

Overall, “Savior of the Earth” is certainly not a carbon copy of “Tron”. In fact, it often feels a bit like a child recounting “Tron” — often misremembering, leaving things out, and embellishing on the story in wildly imaginative ways. It’s “Tron” reimagined, repurposed, and repackaged.

You might say that if “Tron” is the arcade original, “Savior of the Earth” is the Korean home game.

There’s an interesting footnote to this story: having bought the rights to “Savior of the Earth” along with a number of other Korean animated films, wily Hong Kong producer Joseph Lai stitched pieces of them together to form whole new movie — the outrageously confusing “Space Thunder Kids”.

Now that’s what I call “hacking.”

Thanks so much for watching, and I’ll see you next time. End of line.

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16 Responses to “Korean TRON”

  1. Sabaah says:

    Hilarious! I think the odd girl puppet and the one-eyed space pirate make it even more amusing to me than if it was just a literal rip-off. Of course, I had just watched the “literal” Tron Legacy movie trailer before watching this, so I was prepared to laugh.

  2. Chris H says:

    Seeing the trailers for TRON: Legacy and the movie’s flash CGI, I was wondering how the original TRON’s 1982 effects match up.
    Ah yes, Joseph Lai, Godfrey Ho’s partner in crime. I remember suffering through a great many cinematic atrocities because of him.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iRZ1yid7sYY
    http://tenebrouskate.blogspot.com/2010/09/robo-vampire-1988.html

  3. Armabot says:

    Great review! I didn’t know also why there where so many korean exploits. Thank you!

  4. Ed Glaser says:

    Thanks guys!

    Chris, I absolutely love “Robo Vampire”, it’s too outrageous for words. But that one’s actually the product of Tomas Tang.

    Tang did work with Joseph Lai and Godfrey Ho at IFD for a while, but he later left to form his own company, Filmark, where he basically copied IFD’s cut-and-paste formula. A lot of Tang’s stuff is incorrectly attributed to Ho, but you can tell the difference by the Filmark label and a significant drop in quality.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know why Ed Glaser’s features never seem to get the traffic and user comments associated with the sites of his friends (e.g., TGWTG, Cinema Snob, etc.). I have invariably found Deja View to be snappy, informative, cleanly made, and dryly funny without ever veering into silliness, appealing to the lowest common denominator, or relying on profanity. I assume those are all conscious choices made with full knowledge that they may reduce “market share”; regardless, such choices are noticed and respected. I hope it’s not merely that intellectualism doesn’t sell … we need more such shows that are interested in viewing cultures through the lens of media. To that end, on the off chance that you haven’t see it, I recommend Kal Ho Naa Ho — perhaps to contrast with Bollywood’s The Matrix. It also features a “New York seen through the eyes of Bollywood”, but with a literal multi-cultural parade of hip hop artists dancing to Pretty Woman in front of a mammoth flag, among other scenes. It’s also vaguely worth discussing for being one of the few at the time to legitimately license music (again, Pretty Woman).

    Since I never take the time write these, let me shoehorn in two other bits of praise. I thoroughly enjoyed both Robogirl and your “making of Kung Tai Ted vs. Master Kempo Dojo”; your explanation of the materials, lighting, set design were all enthralling, and I would have appreciated even more detail. Something even less effort-ful than your normal fare (perhaps an “Ed Explains …” series in the style of “Brad Tries …”, where you give your thoughts on anything from high angle shots to dollar store props to digital distribution) would make my day. It has been said that engineering is design under constraints, and an inherently creative process: your site seems one of the few to show us how that actually plays out in low-budget cinema. Excellent work, and quite appreciated.

  6. Ed Glaser says:

    Gosh, thanks so much for the kind words! In fairness, one of the reasons this site may not get as much traffic is because “Deja View” episodes are released very sporadically, and other series like “Press Start Adventures” are only released monthly. :-)

    I haven’t seen “Kal Ho Naa Ho” — I’ll have to check it out, thanks!

    I’m thrilled you enjoyed “RoboGirl” and the “Kung Tai Ted” making-of video. I appreciate the series suggestion as well. After “Press Start 2 Continue” is released, I’ll be re-evaluating our output and production schedule, so I’m very open to new ideas.

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

  7. Chris Sobieniak says:

    Too often these Korean animated features back in the 80′s often tend to lift elements and storylines from familiar Japanese productions, but most tend to follow the same theme of some evil organization or alien race trying to take over the planet, and it’s up to our heroes and their giant robot to rid this evil. Most of these films, if not all, tend to be about giant robots or mechs that are used by the protagonists, much of this had it’s genesis in a film produced in the 70′s called “Robot Taekwon V”, itself, Korea’s answer to Japan’s Mazinger Z.

    I think you did a fine job covering those differences between the original film and what was done in “Savior of the Earth”. It’s still rather silly and amusing to me to watch these things anyway if only to pick out where they got this idea from. Obviously Korean animation has gotten better about that nowadays, but getting there certainly was quite a steady road of subcontracted work from western producers to homegrown efforts like this.

  8. Ed Glaser says:

    Speaking of “Robot Taekwon V,” I should be receiving a copy of the restored version in the next week or so. I can’t wait to watch it!

  9. Jarko says:

    By the way, the one eyed pirate girl looks a bit like Sandra, who is the leader of the Snow Gorillas in Space Adventure Cobra: http://www.animevice.com/ep11_2/83-203661/

  10. Jason P says:

    Ed, I can’t wait for you to make the ultimate mash-up flick, DEJA VIEW: THE MOTION PICTURE!

  11. Adell says:

    You are so corny! lol, I love it!

  12. Pagz says:

    Another great Deja View. Wanted to drop you a heads up about a pretty interesting remake of Jaws called Chawz. It’s set in Korea, in the mountains. It replaces the Shark with a man eating Boar. But it’s definitely following Jaws very closely, I think you’ll dig it.

    Keep up the awesome work, can’t wait for the next Deja View!

  13. Nella says:

    Ed, fantastic review! I love how well you compared not just the movies but American and Korean cultures–concise but FASCINATING. I really dig your calm, intellectual but still fun style too. Look forward to watching the rest@ ^_^

  14. Ed Glaser says:

    Thanks so much, Nella! I’m thrilled you enjoyed it. ^_^

    Pagz, thanks for the heads up. Chawz is more a black comedy than a straight remake/knock-off, but I definitely need to check it out.

    Jarko, wow, I think you’re 100% right about the Space Adventure Cobra connection.

  15. trevanian says:

    Hi Ed,
    I saw the tirst time on the cinema snob site discovered today your deja view site. It is very entertaining and informing at the same time. This is one of my favourite shows on the internet. Of course one show in a month is not that much. But the quality is still excellent. And that is also very important.

    Keep coming with more episodes.
    T

  16. T-Puppy says:

    Maybe I’m crazy, but the vilain looks an awful lot like the First Doctor Who, William Hartnell.


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