Flash Gordon had a number of things that should have made it not work when it first came out. Those included but weren’t limited to, the dialogue, the story, the acting performances, the costumes, and the special effects. But as we know, sometimes tons of negatives multiplied together make a positive equation. All of the camp and cheese piled together formed a movie that’s lasted in cult circles for decades. Heck, it’s even kind of good. That being said, over the years some parts have unintentionally aged poorly. A recent re-release of the film also was hit with an explicit tag because of how it handled a certain character.
Flash Gordon’s warning label of “discriminatory stereotypes” under the explicit tag specifically references the character of Ming the Merciless, played by Max von Sydow. Ming, the character, is clearly a poorly formed Asian stereotype villain played by a Swedish actor. These days, this is of course incredibly problematic. Additionally, the character who is almost comic book-y in appearance clearly is made to embrace some less-than-ideal views of Asians and is mined from the original days of the comic books. It’s not a great look and definitely wouldn’t stand if the movie were being made in the present day.
The re-release of Flash Gordon happened over the summer in August in a specially-packaged DVD. The British Board of Film Classification is the group that handed down the explicit warning. They also gave it a 12A rating, not to be confused with PG-13, which references the age group of children who can see the film if they are accompanied by an adult. This rating is almost directly tied to the Asian stereotypes in the original and the negativity around Ming’s portrayal in both message and appearance.
Flash Gordon originally hit screens four decades ago in 1980 though had trouble gaining a foothold at the box office. Critics, in reviews that have mostly come out more prevalently in recent years, generally gave it higher marks, recognizing it for what it was: a B movie that understood its lane.
But over the decades it’s become a cult classic with numerous references to it in other media. Who can forget Mark Wahlberg and Ted worshipping the flick before finally getting to meet Sam J. Jones (Flash) in a culminating scene near the end of Ted?
There has even been some talk in recent years of a remake. A few months ago Chris Hemsworth made his way around the rumor mill with some speculation he’d be cast in the titular role. This casting would have made sense considering Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi was attached. But the latter has since dropped out of the production.
Whether we ever get a Flash Gordon remake remains to be seen. If we do, it’s nearly certain major changes are made to remove stereotypes around characters like Ming the Merciless. Seeing him now in the original production does have a certain cringe factor and we know fans these days wouldn’t even begin to stand for a similar casting or tone. There’s probably a movie to be made as a remake, but it wouldn’t look anything like the original. Probably for the better overall.