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