Monday, April 06, 2015

"Crossing the Line" documents the life of an American soldier defecting to North Korea in 1962

It will sound shocking that an American soldier could defect, across the DMZ into North Korea in 1962 and live a relatively stable and physically comfortable life, but the documentary “Crossing the Line” (2006) by Daniel Gordon (translated “A Blue-Eyed Pyongyang Citizen” or “푸른 눈의 평양시민” in Korean), and narrated by Christian Slater, proves just that point.

The documentary focuses on the narrative of James Joseph Dresnok (or “Joe Dresnok”) who, raised near Richmond VA from a broken home, joined the Army with little education. After a tour in West Germany, he was stationed in the DMZ.  He falsified some papers to go on pass, and when threatened with court-martial, he went AWOL and crossed the border and through mine fields.

Dresnok was one of four defectors.  Having married and divorced once already, he married a Romanian woman and had (white) sons who would be raised as North Korean but in somewhat privileged circumstances in the radical communist state. Another defector, Charles Robert Jenkins, married a woman who had been kidnapped by North Koreans from Japan.  When Jenkins went to Japan, he was arrested and prosecuted for desertion.

Dresnok got his rice and other food rations over all the years (he was about 66 when the film was shot) while rural peasants (“the proles”) starved.

There are many shots of Pyongyang (and of the DMZ).  There is an iconic sculpture showing the worker, peasant, intellectual.  The streets look empty among high-rise buildings.  This could be another planet.
The film, from the UK, is distributed by Kino (and is on Netflix DVD). 

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