Opening in NYC next Wednesday, December 29: THE RED CHAPEL
I was fortunate to see Mads Brügger’s alternately hilarious and poignant film at its debut at Hot Docs last year, where its ethically questionable methods of exposing North Korean totalitarianism rubbed some of the audience members the wrong way. It continued playing the festival circuit with screenings at IDFA, Sundance, and New Directors/New Films, among others. At Sundance, the jury awarded the provocative project the World Cinema Documentary Prize. Lorber Films will be releasing the film just before the end of the year.
While I’ve complained on more than one occasion about filmmakers inserting themselves into their projects, THE RED CHAPEL is one case where this tactic pays off. Brügger manages to arrange for two South Korean-Danish comedians and himself to travel to North Korea, ostensibly to present a show professing cooperation between Denmark and the oppressive state. Instead, the three men plan to use humor and their documentary to infiltrate the closed society and to expose the repression faced by its people. Playing a dangerous game where a wrong move could lead to serious repercussions, Brügger is not prepared for one of the comedians to develop conflicted feelings about their mission, putting them all in jeopardy. Equal parts absurdist farce, political exposé, spy film, and even melodrama, THE RED CHAPEL is one of the most thought-provoking documentaries released this year.