The Chinese military has published a new propaganda video on the social media platform Weibo that appears to show Chinese bombers attacking a U.S. military base in Guam. The video is an unexceptional piece of digital saber-rattling between China and the U.S., but the new video might seem oddly familiar to Americans. That’s because the Chinese video includes clips from at least three Hollywood movies: The Rock from 1996, The Hurt Locker from 2008, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen from 2009.
The video, which was originally posted to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force account on Weibo, is titled “The god of war H-6K goes on the attack!” and shows several planes taking off with the kind of hazy and stylized cinematography you’d see in a professional movie trailer, slowly building to climactic explosions.
The H-6K is China’s upgraded version of an old Soviet plane, but it’s capable of carrying nuclear weapons and was specifically designed to threaten Taiwan and any U.S.-allied ships in the Pacific.
“We are the defenders of the motherland’s aerial security; we have the confidence and ability to always defend the security of the motherland’s skies,” the video’s description says, according to an English-language translation by Reuters.
The PLA Air Force video has also been uploaded to YouTube, but we’ve created our own side-by-side comparison to the Hollywood movies here.
Several English-language news outlets like Reuters and the South China Morning Post have reported that the target in the new Chinese propaganda video appears to be the U.S. territory of Guam.
The reason to attack Guam (at least virtually) is twofold: First, Guam is the site of a strategic air base that would be considered the frontline of any potential shooting war with U.S. military adversaries in Asia, including China and North Korea. But obviously the second reason is that the footage is pulled directly from Hollywood movies where Guam, or a landmass somewhat resembling Guam, was the target.
For example, the Chinese video uses a short clip from the 2009 Transformers movie where a huge catlike robot is sent to Earth. But in the Chinese military version, it looks like a missile being directed at a target that eventually explodes. Some of the clips don’t show Guam at all, like the explosion from The Rock, which is set on Alcatraz, off the coast of San Francisco.
The use of Hollywood movies for the video, first spotted by semi-anonymous users on Twitter who claim to be based in Hong Kong, is particularly ironic when you consider the pro-U.S. and generally patriotic source material. The Rock and Transformers were both produced and directed by Michael Bay, who has an extremely close relationship with the U.S. Air Force, and the Air Force Entertainment Liaison Office specifically. Bay gives the Pentagon final say on his scripts and in exchange he gets to use military resources like fighter jets and warships in his movies.
This is far from the first time that U.S. geopolitical adversaries like China and Russia have used Hollywood movie clips for propaganda purposes. Russia’s embassy in the U.S. tweeted out a very familiar looking clip in 2018 to criticize American policies that were being perceived as hostile.
“It seems that the attempts to ratchet up tension can be explained by the need to justify the adoption by Western countries of laws designed to tighten control over their citizens and restrict fundamental rights and freedoms,” the tweet from the Russian embassy in the U.S. explains.
But the video in the tweet is actually from the movie Enemy of the State, the 1998 espionage thriller directed by Tony Scott, starring Gene Hackman and Will Smith. The movie became especially important after Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 about domestic spying by the NSA.
A Chinese Air Force video from 2011 also lifted footage from the 1986 movie Top Gun, as the South China Morning Post notes. And we could go on and on.
American movies have been a tool of propaganda since at least the first World War, when Hollywood’s biggest stars like Mary Pickford were releasing features like 1917's The Little American and the short film “100% American” to help sell war bonds. But here in the 21st century, it’s a bit strange to see America’s so-called adversaries adopt American movies to create propaganda that simulates the destruction of American military bases.
The whole situation speaks to just how powerful U.S. media has become over the past century—a power where even American geopolitical adversaries love Hollywood’s cultural products and use them to attack the U.S. And it perhaps gives some insight into at least part of why the Trump regime has felt threatened by TikTok. Yes, there may be some real national security concerns about the Chinese government having access to individual user data, though the government is still not being specific about how TikTok is a larger threat than, say, Facebook. But arguably the bigger concern for Trump’s cronies was a Chinese-made app being popular with Americans at all.
If you believe that social media is to the 21st century what Hollywood blockbusters were in the 20th century, TikTok is a threat to the U.S. soft power. And while the entire American entertainment community is probably concerned with the world’s eyeballs being glued to social media apps—Netflix recently called TikTok a “competitor” in a very explicit way—the people threatening to shut down TikTok are the same people who will lose long-term if China dominates global culture.
Steven Mnuchin isn’t just Trump’s Treasury Secretary, he’s also the producer of everything from Wonder Woman to Mad Max: Fury Road to The Lego Batman Movie. As always, none of this is really hidden from public view. With Trump, it’s all being done out in the open.