James Bond dodges bullets in the Demilitarized Zone in his latest movie, but "Die Another Day" is already getting zinged by protests from both North and South Korea.
The movie is a "dirty and cursed burlesque aimed to slander [North Korea] and insult the Korean nation," North Korea said huffily through its propaganda channels. In South Korea, the film faces calls for a boycott when it opens Dec. 31.
Protesters contend that the movie portrays South Korean soldiers as inferior to the U.S. military, depicts the country as third-world and underdeveloped, and is offensive to Korean culture. Buddhists here have joined the fray because of a sex scene set in a Buddhist temple.
"You don't see a Hollywood hit movie where you have a hero like James Bond having sex in a Christian church," said Chung Han-Shin, in charge of public relations at Jogye Buddhist order, the largest in South Korea.
In the latest adventure, Bond is taken hostage and tortured in North Korea before being released in a hostage exchange. He later chases an illegal arms deal from Hong Kong to Cuba to London in a quest for revenge against North Korean renegade Zao, played by Korean American actor Rick Yune, and also manages to prevent a catastrophic war.
Criticism here started in Internet chat rooms and e-mail early this month by viewers who had seen the movie in the United States or heard about it. The online buzz came at a time of rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea. The acquittal of two U.S. soldiers whose armored vehicle killed two teenage girls in June sparked large protests throughout the country.
South Korean actor Cha In Pyo became a hero of sorts for turning down a role in the movie as one of the villains. The Hollywood role, a coveted ticket to stardom for most actors here, "distorts Korea's image, portrays North Korea as a group of evil forces, and [its] contents were too demeaning of South Korea," Cha told reporters.
In an effort to head off the boycott campaign, 20th Century Fox, which distributes MGM films, previewed the film in Seoul last week a few days earlier than scheduled.
"It's a movie. Not reality. Viewers must understand that it's fiction," said Lee Joo Sung , president of 20th Century Fox Korea. Lee said the controversial contents of the movie had been misquoted and exaggerated as word spread.
"North Korean criminals in the movie are no different from Iraqi, Cuban or Russian terrorists, who easily commit mass murders in Hollywood action movies," complained newspaper JoongAng Ilbo in Seoul
Technically, North and South Korea have been at war since 1950, but a mood of reconciliation has swept the country in recent years.
Critics also say the movie portrays South Korea as a U.S. colony. "The scene where U.S. intelligence agency orders South Korean army to mobilize immediately, that didn't sit well with me," said Kim Hyun Jin, 33, a Korean American living in Atlanta. "It made me embarrassed as a Korean."