March 25, 2018

The Red Chapel: Kim Jong-il's Comedy Club

The Red Chapel a.k.a. Kim Jong-il's Comedy Club has got to be the weirdest, funniest, most disturbing documentary about North Korea because it so clearly displays the grievous shortcomings of the hermit nation as well as its critics. On the Korean side, you've got a totalitarian regime, a populace terrified into crying and laughing on cue, a capitol city that's a questionably functional theme park, an institutionalized xenophobia that turns potential cultural exchange into pure propaganda, and an abhorrence for the differently abled that manifests in their complete invisibility (at best). On the Western side, you've got a kind of flippancy towards injustice, a know-it-all attitude that attempts to bully others into submission, a self-aware mocking of the rules that doesn't realize that "playing fascist" is "being fascist" regardless of intent, an exploitation of the handicapped, and a biased misinterpretation of history that sidesteps the pain experienced by the oppressed.

You may say that the crimes of North Korea are worse than those of the West but they're both pretty damning. What saves your sense of humanity are the two Danish comics — of Korean descent — who undermine both the rigidity of the country they're visiting and the misguided manhandling of their misguided but well-meaning manager Mads Brugger. Simon Jul Jorgensen, a big bear of a performer, takes a wily approach to the proceedings. He's along for the ride but he also isn't afraid to establish parameters as to what he will and won't do. Jacob Nossell has a harder time of it. A self-described spastic, he senses a hate beneath the niceties of his guides/hosts and struggles to find a way to be compassionate even as he's smothered by his assigned attache who embodies a mad confusion of affection and rigidity. As the spokesperson of pain internalized and witnessed, Nossell stands amid the chaos like a lone Cassandra, able to see what's wrong with this picture but uttering his insights to deaf ears. Like to laugh with discomfort? You've found the right movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment