Korean docs find home in Toronto

"Old Partner" among sell-outs at Hot Docs fest

TORONTO--The recent Korean boxoffice success for Chung-ryoul Lee’s "Old Partner”--a documentary about an aged farmer, his wife and his loyal ox--has given a lift to Korean and Korean-themed films at this week’s Hot Docs festival in Toronto.

As “Old Partner” generated sold-out audiences at Hot Docs earlier in the week, Korean director Jung-min Choi said the success of the fable-style film has opened a new market for indie films back in Korea. 

“In Korea, indie film is not popular. People don’t have many chances to see films like my own in theatres,” Choi said. He brought his latest documentary, “Black Badge,” a film about under- paid contract workers in Korea, to Hot Docs as part of a Made in Korea sidebar.
 
With its echo of Michael Moore's “Roger & Me,” Choi’s film portrays second-class employees at a General Motors Daewoo auto plant as they fight for better status and pay. 
 
Also generating heat in Toronto is the world premiere of Mads Brugger’s “Red Chapel,” a documentary about Danes who go undercover as Borat-style actors in North Korea to test the boundaries of comedy in Kim Jong-il’s brutal dictatorship.
 
Brugger said the idea for “Red Chapel” came after his 2004 documentary “Danes for Bush,” where the filmmaker traveled around the U.S. acting as Danish neo-conservatives, trying to re-elect president George W. Bush to lampoon American Republicans.
 
But on his return to Denmark, Brugger faced unexpected criticism that there was little risk and little to learn in satirizing American Republicans.
 
“They also said you’re exploiting something that’s nice about U.S., that you can go around complaining about the politics without being hassled,” Brugger recalled.
 
So the Danish filmmaker decided he needed to take his role-playing comedy to a dictatorship to raise the dramatic ante.

“And then I was certain it had to be North Korea because that country is based on as a role-playing system of lies and make-believe, especially the lie that North Korea is a workers’ paradise,” Brugger explained.
 
“Red Chapel” features Brugger and two Danish/Korean comedians who manage to elude their North Korean handlers to perform as a theatre troupe around the country.
 
Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel said “'Red Chapel,' besides offering rare access to North Korea, features Danish comedic irony in the tradition of Lars Von Triers’ 'The Idiots' at its extreme.

“The film has a complicated mix of emotion and humor and a real sadness for the stress the people are under,” he said.

In other market news at Hot Docs, E1 Entertainment picked up the Canadian rights to “The Yes Men Fix The World,” a film about anti-corporate pranksters Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno that had its first Hot Docs screening Tuesday night.
 
Hot Docs runs to May 10.
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