If you want to watch a movie where a white filmmaker gains access into North Korea in the name of “satire”, watch The Red Chapel. The filmmaker brings with him Jacob Nossell and Simon Jul, Korean-Danish comedians. Nossell refers to himself as a spastic comic—he has spastic paralysis. They supposedly go to North Korea to put on a comedy show for some kind of “cultural exchange,” but the white guy director has different motives: to make a documentary that exposes North Korea for the sham of a government it really is, and to use Nossell’s disability as part of his critique of how North Korea treats the disabled.
To his dismay, he is having a hard time finding the right footage that fit his purpose. The North Koreans they meet are good at speaking English, pleasant, and polite. They work hard with the comedians to put on a show that might be acceptable to their audience. Their guide, Mrs. Pak, is maternal and kind, and seems to really connect with Nossell, even calling him her son. The North Koreans aren’t monsters, not even the privileged ones living and working in Pyeongyang. The director isn’t happy. He wants footage of the military marching. He wants footage of North Koreans repeating propaganda. He wants to see Nossell insulted because of his disability, because North Koreans are brainwashed into not accepting difference.
At the end, the director is humiliated. The guy is smug, privileged, and cold-hearted about North Korea, and North Koreans. He’s there to make a satirical documentary, dammit, about a culture, history, and people he knows or cares nothing about. Nossell and Jul realize this pretty early on, and their genuine and complex feelings as Korean adoptees shame the director. Nossell especially has a real experience there, with people that look like him and a woman that could look like his birth mother. The North Koreans they meet don’t treat him as “different” because of his disability; rather, he is one of them. This is a Korean concept that the director could never understand—we are one people. The climactic moment at the end when Nossell confronts the director is brave, raw, and emotional, and reveals the callousness and the privileged ignorance behind the motivations of the director.
It’s a joke, the idea that pulling The Interview from production is a victory for the North Korean “thugs” and “terrorists.” It’s a joke, that all the white comedian men on Twitter support their fellow smug entertainer friends by repeating the same, tired old North Korean jokes, racist tropes, and American propaganda. What’s really a joke, is that what was supposed to be “a joke” movie isn’t funny anymore. No, now it’s a battle against art censorship. It’s a battle against terrorism. It’s a battle against fascism. SMH.
The Interview needs to take a lesson from The Red Chapel. You can’t make a satire about North Korea without looking like a fucking asshole. I, for one, am glad it’s cancelled.
*G wrote some great posts today concerning Americans and their ignorance of America’s role in North and South Korean history, its imperial reign of terror, here, here and here. But you don’t have to read those to know how ignorant Americans are about Korea, despite starting a long and bloody war and still militarily occupying the country. You can ask any Korean American off the street what Americans ask them if they say they’re Korean.
"From the North or South?"