Column: ‘Kong’ film distorts history

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Column: ‘Kong’ film distorts history

Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver, the Kong’s newest female opposite, in “Kong: Skull Island.”/Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver, the Kong’s newest female opposite, in “Kong: Skull Island.”/Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver, the Kong’s newest female opposite, in “Kong: Skull Island.”/Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Brie Larson plays Mason Weaver, the Kong’s newest female opposite, in “Kong: Skull Island.”/Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

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By Vy Thai, A&E columnist

From the original movie in 1933 to its remakes throughout the decades, the “King Kong” franchise has always been more than just a cliché about a giant ape climbing skyscrapers and pursuing forbidden love with women of the human race. Filmmakers have often included metaphors of social injustices, specifically that of a distraught indigenous warrior fighting for his survival.

“Kong: Skull Island” is the newest segment in the King Kong saga that attempts to deliver flamboyant metaphors in the name of a monkey, except now it deals with a real historical setting – the Vietnam War.

Set in the dusk of the Vietnam War, as the last American troops prepare to extricate themselves from Vietnam 1973, the film features a government-affiliated expedition group that sets off to explore an uncharted island. The explorers, however, soon find themselves trapped in an ongoing war between Kong and other giant predators, not to mention anyone else who invades his land.

The metaphors of the Vietnam War grow stronger as the movie unfolds. Kong is the communist leader of the country, the Americans are his enemies of war and the predators are his communist alliances.

The movie attempts to teach a moral lesson on the importance of peace by implying the American guilt following the Vietnam War, in which all outsiders must eventually concede in order to guarantee peace for the indigenous people.

But conceding war is not the same as making peace. The film implies that instead of knowing what the explorers wanted to accomplish through the war in the first place, the competing states chose to call it peace by leaving the war to an authoritarian utopia ruled by Kong.

There, Kong is the protector of the environment and all beings of the island, but at the same time a figure so powerful and unbeatable that only through his mercy do all people who have stepped on his territory make it out. When the expedition group chooses to leave this territory at the end of the movie to return the land back to Kong, it also oddly implies that when the American troops chose to leave Vietnam, it was because they thought that doing so would return the country back to order.

If the purpose of recalling this piece of history is to convey sympathy, then its characters unlearn the lessons of the war. If the soldiers come to accept their limits of power and call for peace, it is only because they are defeated by Kong’s rule as an absolute monarchy. To put it another way, not defeating Kong is a symbol for remedying the wrongness of the Vietnam War – the most thin, unpersuasive metaphor possible to portray the sorrows of the past.

While this theoretical reframing is with good intentions – that the war was imprudent and should not have happened – it does not do much to convey the message in a way that pays respect to the history and the people impacted by the war. Rather, it paints a picture of those people and their cooperation as irrelevant in front of stronger, superior individuals like the American soldiers and Kong.

I do not have a problem with giant monster and superhero genre movies using important historical events as a setting. But when their metaphorical premises fail to speak of the events and their values, the result would be a bunch of silly science fictions that include social and political subtexts just to please its serious moviegoers.