The Shocking Portrayal of North Korea in a Banned Documentary: “The Red Chapel” (Mads Brugger)

I wrote this article in Japanese and translated it into English using ChatGPT. I also used ChatGPT to create the English article title. I did my best to correct any translation mistakes, but please let me know if you find any errors. By the way, I did not use ChatGPT when writing the Japanese article. The entire article was written from scratch by me, Saikawa Goto.



Movies and books covered in this article

(Click This Image to Go Directly to the Amazon Prime Video Movie “The Red Chapel”: Image from

I will write an article about this movie/book

Three takeaways from this article

  1. The existence of “Korean Danes” who can speak freely within North Korea and Mads Brugger’s intentions.
  2. The film reveals the meaning of “friendship” to North Korea by presenting a “low-level show.”
  3. It also depicts the intense disgust towards the caretaker woman and how it changes.

Due to the production of this film by Mads Brugger, I wonder if some people were executed in North Korea.

Self-introduction article

Please refer to the self-introduction article above to learn about the person writing this article. Be sure to check out the Kindle book linked below as well.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

The quotes used in this article are based on notes taken at the movie theater from movies in Japanese and are not direct quotes from the foreign language original movies, even if they exist.

The Shocking “North Korean Film” that Made Mads Brugger, a Documentary Film Director, Famous

I didn’t know about the documentary film director Mads Brugger, but I happened to watch two of his movies, “Cold Case Hammarskjold” and “THE MOLE,” which I became interested in through trailers and posters. They were both quite outrageous and abnormal films, and “The Red Chapel,” which I watched knowing that it was his work, was also a very shocking film. The film director created this work by editing footage taken with permission after entering North Korea under the name of “friendship” and exposing the reality of North Korea. However, this made North Korea furious and resulted in an immigration ban. Surprisingly, this ban led to the creation of “THE MOLE” later on.

The portrayal of North Korea in this film may be seen as a “known reality” for Japanese people. However, I think the shocking tactics used by Mads Brugger to capture that truth and the story that unfolds from there are quite captivating.

How the World Perceives North Korea

Mads Brugger, along with two Korean-Danish individuals, entered North Korea, and one of them, Jacob, said to Mads the following at one point:

Don’t you feel guilty? Don’t you have any conscience?

To be honest, Jacob probably didn’t fully understand Mads’ intentions for entering North Korea. I think he was questioning Mads’ behavior, which he saw as “deceiving North Korea.” In response, Mads asserted that it wasn’t about North Korea.

Mads’ perspective may not be so uncomfortable for Japanese people. For Japanese people, the country of “North Korea” is an opponent with deep-rooted problems such as abductions and missile launches. Geographically close, it is also a country that we cannot avoid dealing with. Therefore, every move by North Korea is perceived by Japanese people as something “bad,” and we Japanese cannot have a friendly feeling towards North Korea.

However, when we look at the world, a different scene emerges. About 80% of countries have established normal diplomatic relations with North Korea. It is rarer for a country to sever diplomatic ties with North Korea, like Japan. I have also heard that Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in Malaysia because it was a friendly country of North Korea. Not all countries that have established diplomatic relations with North Korea are necessarily friendly towards them, and their response may have changed in recent years due to continued missile launches. However, at least it seems that North Korea is not disliked as much as the Japanese think.

In the movie “THE MOLE,” the infiltration into North Korea through the organization “Danish North Korean Friendship Association” is depicted, and the existence of the world-scale North Korean friendship organization “KFA” is also introduced. Thus, regardless of the motives or intentions, there are organizations around the world that actively seek to build friendly relations with North Korea.

Without understanding these facts, Jacob’s perspective may be difficult to understand. At the time of his visit, he did not have the “disgust of North Korea” that we have, which is why he questions Mads’ be Naturally, Mads understands what kind of country North Korea is.

I thought I could show the world how evil North Korea is.

And with this motive, he is using Jacob and others to infiltrate North Korea.

So Jacob began to show a strong aversion to the country of North Korea during his stay. At one point, he cried out like this:

I can’t stand it.
I can’t do anything. I’m useless.
I can’t stand that bullshit.
I pretended to laugh and kept putting up with it. I was just playing the role I was asked to play.
Not very, but I can’t stand it.

What did he see that made him react like that? It was a scene familiar to us Japanese, where North Koreans sing and dance with a pasted-on smile as a welcoming gesture. If you were shown such a sight without knowing what kind of country North Korea is, you would certainly feel a great deal of fear. Jacob and the others entered North Korea ostensibly for “friendship,” and were welcomed wherever they went. However, the hospitality felt too strange, and fear won over Jacob.

However, as Mads, he couldn’t let the North Korean side realize that Jacob was “afraid.” In every situation, Mads managed to cover it up and explained to Jacob,

We have to lie to ensure our safety.

And Jacob understands that Mads is clearly lying to the North Koreans and is accusing him of not being heartbroken about it. Despite feeling fearful of the situation in front of him, Jacob would not see North Korea as “evil.”

From Jacob’s behavior, we might be able to understand “how the world perceives North Korea.”

Why is Jacob able to Speak Freely within North Korea?

Some people may feel uncomfortable with the description up until now. You may wonder how Jacob can behave so freely in North Korea, where speech and behavior are supposed to be strictly constrained. Mads is allowed to film quite freely in North Korea. Even in situations where filming is normally impossible, he can film as if it were natural. However, as a matter of course, all tapes that are filmed undergo North Korean censorship. All data is submitted, and if it is deemed unacceptable, it is confiscated.

When watching the movie, it’s clear that Jacob and Mads’ interactions include many things that are clearly not allowed for North Korea. It’s hard to imagine North Korea giving permission for footage containing such dangerous conversations. And yet, the movie is being released as if it were normal.

Mads’ strong strategy is hidden here.

First of all, it works to their advantage that they are Danish. Of course, their native language is Danish. North Korea probably doesn’t have many people who are proficient in Danish. Mads can speak English, and Simon, who came to North Korea with Mads and Jacob, can also speak English. In addition, the North Korean side has sent a woman named Mrs. Pak, who is officially an interpreter and is actually a caretaker, so there are no communication problems. On the other hand, Jacob cannot speak English, so the North Korean side cannot understand what he is saying in Danish.

But that’s not all. If the only strategy is that “Jacob can only speak Danish”, the risk increases if there are people in North Korea who are fluent in Danish.

So Mads used a characteristic of Jacob’s. He has cerebral palsy. Therefore, it can be assumed that the Danish Jacob speaks is quite difficult to understand. Mads can understand Jacob’s words because it is his mother tongue, but it may not be easy for foreigners who have learned Danish. So, no matter what Jacob says, there is no need to worry about it being heard directly by North Korea. Every time Jacob speaks, Mads converts appropriately it into a pleasant-sounding phrase to cover it up.

Because of these circumstances, only Jacob can speak freely in North Korea. Furthermore, his cerebral palsy plays an even bigger role in his ability to enter North Korea. It can be said that Mads’s “unusual strategy” worked brilliantly in the end.

A Group that Brilliantly Used the Two Elements of “Korean-Danish” and “Cerebral Palsy” to Enter North Korea

Now let’s talk about how Mads succeeded in entering North Korea. Mads’ strategy was to ingeniously exploit “North Korea’s weakness,” and while some may feel it is ethically problematic, it could be said that without doing so, he could not have made such a movie.

Mads dressed up Jacob and Simon as “comedians” and created the pretext that they would perform a show for the sake of friendship. Although neither Jacob nor Simon were comedians, Mads decided on his own that “those in power like comedians,” so they were paired up as a comedy duo on the spot.

Therefore, their show is very low level, and Mads understands this. Presumably, Mads had a plan that “even with such a low-level show, North Korea would be eager to jump on it if it was for the sake of ‘friendship’.” Since Mads’ goal is to elicit some kind of response from North Korea, the more hooks, the better.

However, Mads had a concern. That is the possibility of the decision to cancel the show due to it being “too low level.” Their show was scheduled to be performed at a prestigious national theater with tradition and formality. There is a sufficient possibility that a show by amateur comedians who just formed yesterday will be judged as inappropriate in such a place.

Actually, North Korea watched their show by the river and had a very sour expression on their face, clearly confused. However, they did not mention canceling in the end.

As for the reason, Mads has two hypotheses.

One is Jacob’s “cerebral palsy” mentioned earlier. There have been rumors in North Korea that say “kill disabled people when they are born” and “keep them locked up in institutions for life.” To dispel such doubts, it is speculated that it would be a plus for North Korea to outwardly appeal that they are treating Jacob well.

The other reason is that both Jacob and Simon are “Korean-Danish.” Both Jacob and Simon were born in Korea but were adopted by Danish families in the past.

North Korea probably wanted to appeal that “someone adopted from Korea succeeded in the North instead of the South” by performing the show of the two. At least, that’s what Mads speculated. Mads called them “Danish-Korean” at every opportunity, thinking that this point would probably have a direct impact on whether or not the show was held. It depends on how you put it.

In this way, Mads skillfully used even Jacob’s cerebral palsy to win “free filming in North Korea.” I repeat, many people would feel “ethically wrong” about it. However, it is also true that without utilizing such strategies, it would be impossible to break through North Korea head-on.

“Prejudice” of the “Gentle Watchman”, and North Korea that “Imposes Culture”

Mrs. Pak, who is both an interpreter and a watchman, treats Jacob like her own son. If you forget the fact that he is in North Korea, it might seem like a very good relationship.

However, Jacob feels very uncomfortable with Mrs. Pak.

I feel abnormal and eerie. I feel suffocated.
It’s all this woman’s fault.

Taking advantage of the fact that they cannot communicate, Jacob speaks out like this even while Mrs. Pak is taking care of him.

It could be said that Jacob, who has a disability, is particularly sensitive to the discomfort he feels.

I feel like they’re crazy because they’re unusually kind to me.
But I’m sure of it.
They really despise me.

There may not be a universal “right way” to interact with people with disabilities, but objectively speaking, Pak’s attitude could certainly be called “unnatural.” It’s difficult to explain in words, but to put it simply, it’s like she doesn’t see him as one of her own. I think Jacob probably feels a sense of disgust at not being treated as a fellow human being. The more kind Pak acts, the more discomfort accumulates inside Jacob. This attitude of Pak’s could be seen as the flip side of “how North Korea wants to appeal to the importance of people with disabilities.” To me, it felt like a world where ugliness seeps out beyond what the video objectively shows.

Various discomforts also arise regarding the show. They only have the idea of “pushing North Korean culture” in their heads, even though they advocate “cultural friendship”.

The North Korean stage manager, who is in charge of their show, sees Jacob and Simon’s rehearsal and suggests, “Let’s change the content completely.” I think this means “if you don’t change it, we won’t perform it.” Before entering North Korea, they had agreed that the orchestra would play along with the show, but the orchestra did not appear at the theater even during rehearsal time. It was probably decided to stop involving the orchestra because the show level was too low, and this was also a declaration that “if you don’t accept our claims, we won’t let the show go on.”

Of course, all three understand that the show’s level is low. Therefore, there is no resistance to accepting changes. However, the “changes” that North Korea insists on are only felt by the three as “incoherent” and “meaningless.” Certainly, audiences that are watching part of it will not understand what it is doing at all. Furthermore, despite promising in advance that “ideological claims will not be included,” they easily break it and include the phrase “Korea is one.”

Jacob and Simon naturally do not agree with the “deterioration” by North Korea. However, Mads convinced them that “performing the show is important” and struggled to somehow hold the show.

Regarding this series of developments, Mads said,

For North Korea, “cultural exchange” means the unilateral imposition of North Korean culture.

The initial show plan of the two that included “Danish elements” was not only excluded, but also a “North Korean element” that they could not understand was incorporated into the show, and they were forced to perform without understanding it. It’s understandable why they would say that.

In a sense, this may be the “effect” of having prepared a “low-level show.” It became an interesting development as a documentary film, but it also showed the abnormality of the country of North Korea.

A Film that Portrays Everyday Life in Pyongyang

While the main purpose is to “perform,” they also do some sightseeing in the city after visiting North Korea. Of course, all the footage taken at that time is censored and only shows the “scenes that North Korea wants to show to the outside world.” Nevertheless, it is very interesting to see the “daily life of ordinary citizens in Pyongyang” that we Japanese rarely have a chance to see, even if that is the case.

Mads thinks while filming the people of Pyongyang with his camera.

The citizens of Pyongyang are extras performing on the stage prepared by the current regime.

It’s a clever way of putting it. There may be countries like China or Russia that are close to dictatorship and where citizens are censored to some extent, and such countries exist all over the world. However, North Korea may be the only country that controls its citizens to the extent of managing every move they make. The term “extras” is perfect.

In the movie, there is a scene where people in Pyongyang “cry”, and Mads has this to say about it:

Crying for the Supreme Leader is the only means for citizens to express their pain and sadness.

In a country where “true emotions” cannot be expressed, the act of crying for the Supreme Leader becomes a disguise for expressing one’s own emotions. The film director, Mads Brugger, seems to have captured the country of “North Korea” quite accurately.

There is also a scene where young girls who appear to be elementary school students perform a dance to welcome Mads and his team. They clap for Mads and his team as they leave, but the narration during the scene says,

This scenery could be said to be the everyday life of North Korea.
Applause from fear.
They keep clapping as long as the camera keeps rolling.

It can be said that this film shows the “reality” of “North Korea,” a country that has reached an abnormal level of control by a state that has gone too far, as shown by a heretic who has infiltrated the country by means of a bizarre plan. It is a film full of shocks that makes us feel that it was worth making even though it was banned from entering the country.


The movie ends with an impressive scene featuring Jacob. Up until then, he had only shown disgust towards Pak, but in a certain scene, he extends a helping hand to her. Although the specific meaning of this change was not explained, it was an impressive scene that suggested a change in Jacob’s state of mind from his visit to North Korea.

While the film director Mads Brugger’s abnormality stands out, it is also a film that allows us to understand the abnormality of North Korea as a country.

Published Kindle books(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

“The genius Einstein: An easy-to-understand book about interesting science advances that is not too simple based on his life and discoveries: Theory of Relativity, Cosmology and Quantum Theory”

“Why is “lack of imagination” called “communication skills”?: Japanese-specific”negative” communication”

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