JDIFF FILM REVIEW: Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang


Genre: Documentary

Director: Colin Offland

Distributor: Chief Productions

Certification: Unrated

Release date: TBC

Duration: 95 minutes

Growing up in the ‘90s, what I remember of Dennis Rodman wasn’t his feats playing power forward with the San Antonia Spurs or Chicago Bulls – unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the games in my home. Instead, it was his “bad boy” image and controversial antics on-and-off the court that sticks in my mind.

His two-month fling with the Queen of Pop, Madonna; turning up in a wedding dress for to promote his second autobiography, aptly entitled Bad As I Wanna Be; and his short-lived marriage to Baywatch star and Playboy alumna, Carmen Electra, saw Rodman as prime tattler fodder. Not to mention repeated clashes with rival players and officials as well as his extensive body art, piercings and ever-changing hair colour – all opportunely juxtaposed with his ex-Bulls virtuosos and fellow Hall of Fame inductees, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Indeed, Rodman was entertainment galore of the 1990s… until now.

JDIFF did well with this one. Directed by Collin Offland, Dennis Rodman’s Big Bang in Pyongyang chronicles the former NBA star’s trips to North Korea over the past couple of years where he fosters a less-than-likely friendship with the nation’s dictator, Kim Jong-un. As Today FM’s Matt Cooper quips during his narration: “It’s still a strange sight. The leader of the world’s most controlled state and America’s most out-of-control celebrity laughing and joking like a couple of old college buddies.”

Dennis Rodman, the budding ambassador, and Kim Jong-un, the basketball buff. Who knew? Not me. Well, not until Irish bookmakers, Paddy Power, hired Rodman to promote their website and the possibility of the first ever black pope back in 2013. Black pope… didn’t happen. But Rodman was chauffeured around Vatican City in the Paddy Power mobile for the world’s media to lap up. Paddy Power would inevitably sponsor his trips to North Korea (then later drop out due to the mounting coverage of Kim Jong-un’s own, em… “bad boy” image cough).

Dialogue were the aim of the day. The idea of friendly between former NBA all-stars and the North Korea national basketball team may seem laughably unfair. But their speed and (what I imagine to be) military-style training has served them very well. They can hustle. And in front of 14,000 spectators, they shoot hoops around the aged pros.

Although humbling to be beaten at their own game, the score and overall experience gives Rodman’s hand-selected team a newfound respect for the Pyongyang players. Rodman himself goes through his own personal battles.

In fact, this film was less about USA vs. North Korea and more about the breakdown of a man under extreme pressure. Increasing coverage of American journalist, Kenneth Bae – sentenced at the time to 15 years of hard labour in North Korea – as well as criticism of the trips and personal attacks by the media and loved ones proved too much to handle. Rodman fell off the wagon. Much of the film sees a drunk Rodman: slurred words, fumbled playing, and outbursts at his co-players and journalists, including Cooper.

Drunk or sober, Rodman provides many cringe-comedy moments throughout. Although the documentary certainly threads the line between entertainment and exploitation, leading to some uneasy viewing. This documentary candidly lampoons him as if he’s a cartoon instead of a person. In truth, Rodman has lived some dark moments which likely explains his alcoholism. However, the film sometimes takes stock to consider that Rodman might well be on to something positive.

All in all, this was most likely a PR stunt for the North Korean regime. But what American politician or diplomat can honestly say they met face-to-face and tried to open up neutral discourse with the notorious dictator? Rodman’s got balls! (Pun, somewhat intended.)

7/10

To learn more about the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival or to book tickets visit www.jdiff.com

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