The Red Chapel

Danish-Korean Commedia del Arte - Case Study of a controversial documentary

The Red Chapel is Mads Brügger´s controversial feature-length documentary debut. Film won the Best Nordic Documentary at Nordisk Panorama 2009, as well asthe World Cinema Jury Prize Documentary at Sundance in 2010. At VFF 2015 there will be a screening of this film followed by a discussion with its creator Mads Brugger.


„I was looking for a place where the use of role play, and pretending to be someone you’re not, would actually be morally justifiable because you’re basically exploiting something very important about how humans interact. It dawned on me that it had to be a dictatorship, and then I started reading about the last remaining dictatorships in the world, and then I stumbled upon North Korea and became obsessed with it.“

A journalist with no scruples, a spastic, and a comedian travels to North Korea with a mission - to challenge the conditions of the smile in one of the world’s most notorious regimes.

On the pretext of being a small theatre troupe on a cultural exchange visit, ’The Red Chapel’ was given permission to travel to North Korea with the objective of performing at special events for selected audiences. But in reality the small troupe was comprised of a group who had no such intentions. Two group members, Jacob and Simon, were both adopted from North Korea to Europe as infants and this is their story about the confrontation with their biological roots, and their attempt to act and perform in a world where humour and humanity have very poor conditions. It is also a bizarre story about the meeting between the free mind and the absolute surveillance society. 




A rare look inside the fortress-like walls of North Korea proves sufficiently intriguing to prevail over the messiness of director Mads Bruegger’s guerrilla-style tactics in “The Red Chapel,” a fascinating but less-subversive-than-advertised piece of stunt filmmaking.



For his two-person theatre troupe "The Red Chapel," Brügger borrows the name of a communist spy cell in Nazi Germany.  Red, the colour of socialism, is also present in the name, which seems to satisfy the trio's North Korean hosts. In 2006 Brügger finally travelled to North Korea with his theatre group. In the film, the scenes of Jacob, Simon and himself interacting with a variety of North Koreans assigned to guide their performance are complemented with Brügger´s sarcastic commentary. 


And what was the reaction of the North Koreans? In one of many interviews, Brugger says: "It was on a television program in Denmark, and they know about that one. They were not happy. The [North Korean] ambassador in Stockholm wrote a fax to the management of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation. He wrote that ‘the difference between man and animal is that man has a conscience, and that [Mads Brugger] has no conscience, and therefore must be an animal. I damn him, exclamation mark.” So it means that I’m not going to Pyongyang in the near future."  


Cast Mads Brügger, Simon Jul Jørgensen , Jacob Nossell | Directed by Mads Brügger | Produced by Peter Engel, Zentropa RamBUk | Cinematography René Johannsen | Editing René Johannsen | Sound Jakob Garfield-Havsteen | 88´ |Denmark| 2009