But as you sift through the cinematic send-ups, there’s a lesser known flick that’s arguably funnier–and definitely more daring–than the puerile puppetry in Team America,. Best of all, it’s 100% real.
The Red Chapel, which won a jury prize at Sundance in 2010, is a staggering stunt in documentary filmmaking. In 2009, a Danish documentary filmmaker assembled two Korean-born, Denmark-raised comedians to pose as a theatre troupe. The trio manage to get rare access into North Korea as a “cultural exchange” between Denmark and the Communist country. Their plan is to intentionally put on a terrible performance as an experimental prank, while gaining an inside look at North Korean society few in the world ever get to see.
The trio is so successful in its infiltration, the result is a film that’s a cross between the absurdist setup of a Christopher Guest movie with the cringe-worthy moments worthy of a Sascha Baron Cohen character (who, in a meta-promotional gambit of his own, just issued a sympathetic statement on the death of the dictator as the character in the upcoming film, The Dictator). Here, of course, it’s important to remember these stunts are actually being played out for real, in front of bamboozled (or are they?) government officials in North Korea’s capital, without a safety net. Yet it’s the very constraint on filmmaker Mads Brügger and the increasingly anxious Danish-Korean comics, one of whom is physically disabled, that make for a film that’s both hilarious and harrowing.
In other words, watch Team America: World Police for the Kim Jong Il puppet. Then watch The Red Chapel, which is available for download on the film’s site and also streaming on Netflix, to see how a dictactor pulls a nation’s strings.