Monday, August 6, 2012

People are People

The Red Chapel (2009) - Brüger
the red chapel
A very promising premise: 3 Danish comedians travel to North Korea to pull a Borat style stunt in front of stunned, humorless audience. Mads Brügger doesn't come close to achieving that goal. It's not even that funny. But instead, The Red Chapel becomes something else entirely.

The Red Chapel, comprised of two Korean-Danes- brawny Simon Jul Jørgensen and spastic Jacob Nossell who's bound to a wheelchair most of the time and managed by Brügger, arrives in North Korea under the guise of a cultural exchange act and set to perform a traditional Danish comedy act (whatever that means) that's all fart gags and involves singing Wonder Wall. The idea gets shot down by NK Cultural Ministry bigwigs. Brügger, deathly afraid of blowing the cover, compromises on everything with authorities despite Simon & Jacob's protests. It becomes something else when Nossell has a breakdown and refuses to comply with Brüger's deception. For Brüger, there are no moral scruples- North Korean regime kills its own citizens and they are thoroughly brainwashed and pretending to live in worker's paradise. And we see the evidences of that time and time again: adorable but robotic little children can't seem to stop waving at the camera. Mrs. Pak, assigned to be the translator and the shadow of the crew, breaks down in tears whenever the late Great Leader is mentioned.

Young Nossell (18 at the time) realizes Pyungyang's two faced niciety and is horrified by it. There is a scene where Brüger and the crew is pressured to march with the huge military march commemorating Korean War (for them, instigated by the imperialist US). Brüger has no problem shouting slogans with his fist in the air- it's gonna look great in the film. However, Nossell can't bring himself to be part of it. Obviously both Mads and North Koreans try to manipulate him for their own benefit. The whole footage of them marching is on the State owned TV that night.

What Brüger doesn't realize is that for N Koreans, the nationalistic fervor overcomes everything, including famine, personal freedom, even their own death. Pak's maternalistic, genuine niciety toward invalid Nossell is touching too. Nossell tries to put Pak in the corner when he says that everyone he meets is beautiful, asks her to meet other invalids in his slurred English (North Koreans kill off their invalids at birth to show their purity and strength as people) but decides to save face at the end, saying, "maybe next time." Only part that made me smile was a group of pretty teen girl performers playing with Nossell and Jørgensen. It shows that their ideology maybe different, but young people behave the same way everywhere. Even though he failed to capture what he set out to do, Brüger reveals a lot about the hermit kingdom in The Red Chapel: people are people.

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