Florida Film Festival
The Red Chapel
Directed by: MADS BRÜGGER
DENMARK, 2009, 88 MIN
In English, Danish, and Korean with English subtitles
“Comedy is the soft spot of all dictatorships,” we’re told, and the filmmaker takes this at face value. Access into the belly of the beast makes this an exceptional dark-witted documentary as the director and two Danish comedians visit North Korea. Identified as “The Red Chapel” comedy troupe, they pretend to be regime sympathizers, mounting an absurd variety show. The stunt is assisted by the fact that comedians are of South Korean descent—Simon Jul as the straight man and Jacob Nossell as the self-proclaimed “spastic.” Suffering from cerebral palsy, his halting speech untranslatable, Nossell insults his hosts, receiving smiles in return, and eventually challenges the film’s director, claiming he’s being used, just as the North Koreans use them. Constantly shadowed by their guide, they fake allegiance to Kim Jong-il, viewing a modernized Pyongyang of skyscrapers and ominously deserted streets. Combining Michael Moore’s muck-racking with The Yes Men and Borat’s love of confrontation, this Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winner is an unconventional, hilarious, and damning peek into a totalitarian nightmare and the acme of documentary guerilla filmmaking.