Hot Property: The Red ChapelChris Chang makes an argument for the uncomfortable yet totally necessary provocations in The Red Chapel
Written by Chris Chang
International intrigue level one: under pretense of cultural exchange, journalist Mads Brügger arranges for a pair of slapstick entertainers and a documentary film crew to visit North Korea. Level Two: Brügger and colleagues are Danish, but the duo, Simon and Jakob, are Korean by birth. Level Three: Jakob is a self-described “spastic,” i.e., he suffers from cerebral palsy.
It’s no surprise that North Korea views people with disabilities unfavorably. Having a handicap is an obvious impediment to expressing patriotism! So at least part of the government’s rationale for permitting Brügger’s visit—if we can imagine the way authoritarian nutjobs think—must have been its perceived potential as a political-spin op. But boy did they get that wrong.
Brügger, borrowing moves from the Herzog playbook (including sardonic voiceover) prevaricates continuously, skewering the hapless state at every opportunity. One chief victim is the perky female minder assigned to chaperone the Danish vistors, a model citizen who can weep jingoistic tears of joy on cue. Who, one wonders, is the best actor here? When does deceit turn into self-deception and then finally mass delusion? The often hysterical proceedings turn disturbing with Jakob, whose speech impediment allows him, paradoxically, to speak freely in the presence of his hosts (their ESL skills can’t decipher his drawl). At critical narrative moments Brügger pressures Jakob to play along and act the part of brain-dead Communist dupe—but Jakob’s outrage at the pervasive injustice prevents him. He protests vigorously (to no immediate avail) yet his actions and certitude provide for a most unnerving and indelible ethical “performance.”
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