The Red Chapel | Chicago Reader

The Red Chapel

Danish director Mads Brugger documents a cultural exchange visit to North Korea by the Red Chapel, a pair of shticky comedians who were born in Korea but adopted and raised by Danes. As the guests quickly discover, the exchange is strictly one-way, and the theatrical commissars assigned to chaperone them immediately begin tailoring the duo's act to fit the propaganda objectives of President Kim Jong Il. On a political level the movie is unassailable, but on a personal level it can be grating in its arrogance ("By now, my understanding of the North Korean mentality was second to none," Brugger announces in voice-over). One of the comedians, Jacob Nossell, suffers from cerebral palsy, which would have doomed him under the North Korean regime; his refusal to be exploited during a giant rally constitutes the movie's most courageous moment, yet Brugger isn't above exploiting him either, closing the documentary with Nossell's cloying, caterwauling performance of "Imagine" in a karaoke lounge.

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