Posted by: Jie Yi See | March 2, 2010

My favorite T/F film: The Red Chapel

Shared by Zac Early, who watched 12 films over the 4-day film festival. The Missourian is featuring reader contributions from True/False. If you’d like to submit your photos, stories or reviews, send them to

Taken by Zac Early before the screening of The Red Chapel

Bright and early Sunday morning, we made our way to Stephens College’s Firestone-Baars Chapel for a screening of the Danish film “The Red Chapel,” fittingly enough. As melodies of Noah Earle serenaded the congregation of True/False faithful, I was fixated on the uniformity of the squared pews radiating from the stage. The high backs of the seats made us sit at attention as we zeroed in on the target-like True/False logo behind Mr. Earle.

A door leading down the center of the chapel was left open so that the projector could be far enough away from the screen. The film was to be projected through that door, but I could not help but feel as if someone (possibly the projectionist) was peaking in, watching us watch the film. And that’s what we did. Like good disciples of the True/False vision, we sat politely and watched as the absurdity transpired on screen.

“The Red Chapel” follows filmmaker Mads Brügger and his makeshift comedy troupe of two Korean-born Danish comedians travel to North Korea on sort of a cultural exchange of rather dubious intentions. They soon find that their postmodern comedy act is not appreciated the way they had hoped as North Korean officials carefully restructure the troupe’s act to suit local audiences.

To compound things, one of Brügger’s comedians, Jacob, a self-described spastic, challenges the superficial perfection of the North Koreans by merely being present. It is clear from the beginning that the North Koreans are both horrified and intrigued by Jacob’s wheelchair. North Korea’s eugenics-laden history is brought to the forefront as Jacob is paraded through Pyongyang while not allowed to fully participate in his own act.

What is most striking about this nonfiction, postmodern comedy are the North Korean people themselves. The group visits a school where all the children are attractive and extremely talented. They stand at perfect attention, like the soldiers of the North Korean army. When they applaud, each audience member looks to see that they are in-step with their peers. It is eerie, much more like a cult than any dictatorship.

Hidden in Pyongyang are any signs of life. There are not shop signs or storefronts visible from the streets. Eight lane streets through the city are virtually empty. One does not see a soul in public until the day the North Koreans put on a “peace demonstration” in remembrance of the day when the Americans and South Koreans attacked the North. It’s what one doesn’t see in North Korea that teaches the most about this bizarre country.

Throughout the film, the theme of manipulation was present. Just as the North Korean officials sought to manipulate the Danish comedy team’s act, their government manipulated the people into believing that their leader, the eccentric Kim Jong-il, was their savior, savant and protector all in one. Once again, hidden were the atrocities of eugenics, starvation and mind-control. Even Brügger plays a role in the manipulation. Brügger skillfully traverses a slippery slope as he convinces the North Koreans that he is dedicated to their cause and his comedians just to play along despite their own internal conflicts with this suffocating regime.

“The Red Chapel” represents the best True/False has to offer. It was irreverent, insightful and hugely entertaining. Films like these are why folks return every year to the festival in droves, wearing the uniform of red and black, marching down Broadway. Like good North Koreans following the propaganda of the Supreme Leader, we believe in the festival and how it can enlighten our worldview. This film is clearly among the best. I highly recommend searching it out at Ninth Street Video as soon as it becomes available.



  1. You can find more of my thoughts on T/F at .

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