City Paper is not for tourists
A Danish journalist and two Korean-Danish comedians step into North Korea—that’s basically the setup of The Red Chapel, Mads Brügger’s attempt to inject some levity into the totalitarian regime and cult of personality of its leader, Kim Jong-Il. Brügger, a left-leaning writer and documentarian, arranged a trip with two young comics, one of whom has a severe speech impediment. The trio gain remarkable access, and the look they offer of Pyonyang’s antiseptic boulevards and monuments alone is worth the price of admission—it’s a rare peek behind the curtain. The trade-off is that North Korean secret police review Brügger’s footage each night, and so he and Simon, the straight man of the comedic duo, more or less have to feign sympathy for the regime. Jacob, a self-described “spastic” whose slurred Danish is clearly indecipherable to the North Korean censors, offers a more liberated commentary. But while international filmgoers may learn something from The Red Chapel, it’s doubtful that the bureaucrats, theater artists, and audiences the comedians encountered in Pyongyang gained anything from the cultural exchange—any provocative statement from Brügger or Simon, and the trio surely would’ve been ejected from North Korea, or worse. If Brügger & Co. made any headway in the evil empire, it’s with Mrs. Pak, their government-assigned guide, who becomes increasingly fond of Simon and Jacob. She endears herself to Jacob, too: When he attempts to deliver the film’s dark punch line—he asks her if he can meet any handicapped North Koreans, knowing that the country euthanizes them at birth—he then pulls back, shrugging and saying, “Next time.” Of course, if the regime ever sees this film, there won’t be one.
At 8 p.m.; also on Saturday, June 26, at 10:45 p.m. Both screenings at the Discovery HD Theater.