funny chapel

In life, some situations are easy to foresee yourself in.

That said, I wasn’t exactly expecting:

“Just got back from shooting a play in Chapel Hill, and frantically need to make a gif about skeletons that have a car with hovering tires” 

…but life is full of surprises.

The best comedy about North Korea, far better than The Interview, was made six years ago.

It’s called The Red Chapel, and it’s a documentary about two Danish-Korean comedians (and their director/manager) who go to North Korea to perform for Kim Jong Il.  The idea they had was that they would do subversive comedy, they would come up with a sketch that looked like goofy slapstick but slyly mocked the North Korean government, and it would be a hilarious slap in the face to do it right in front of Kim Jong Il.  That big silly wouldn’t even know they were making fun of him!  Ha!

Over the course of their stay in North Korea, the idea falls apart.  It becomes clear during rehearsals that their government minders are very aware of anything that could be the slightest bit subversive (or even really funny), and if any of that makes it into the final performance, the consequences will be very bad.  Anything remotely satirical gets cut from the routine very early on.

Things go from demoralizing to horrific when the government minders take them on outings to see life in North Korea.  Of course everyone they see looks totally fine and claims everything is wonderful.  But one of the comedians has cerebral palsy, and he starts asking: why don’t I see any people like me?  We’ve been here for weeks, and seen thousands of people; how is it that not one of them is visibly disabled?

He doesn’t get an answer.  He breaks down emotionally and refuses to keep going along with the charade, but because his voice is hard for the North Korean minders to understand, the director “translates” his protests into praise for the regime.  He’s trying to protect his friend but it’s awful and cruel and gut-wrenchingly hard to watch the scenes where the comedian is screaming “that’s not what I said!” and the director is frantically whispering “just play along!” at him.

In the end, they go out in front of a heavily coached audience and do a completely harmless show with kazoos and spring snakes and silly costumes.  All hope for satire breaks down and they give exactly the show the government minders wanted, because it’s the only thing they can do.  Subversiveness wouldn’t be clever; it might be fatal.  Instead of getting away with something, they end up hating themselves and violating their own principles.  They came to mess around with a silly weird country that doesn’t know how ridiculous it is, and instead they found themselves surrounded by very serious and real and terrifying oppression.

The Red Chapel isn’t funny, and totally fails to satirize or expose or change anything, and that’s why it’s the only good comedy about North Korea.