April 12, 2015

The Defector: Escape From North Korea: Life Is a Blur

Each documentary about North Korea tells a unique story. Canadian filmmaker Ann Shin's The Defector: Escape From North Korea focuses on women who've crossed the Tumen River to escape into China, then gone into hiding before finally enlisting the services of a "broker" (in this case, a man named "Dragon") to arrange their transport across country, through Laos then into Thailand where, if they're lucky, they'll be granted some sort of refugee status before being extradited to South Korea. Because these activities are illegal and the safety of North Korean relatives, endangered, the players herein are never fully revealed — not even Dragon's. To obscure their identities, Shin shoots them in silhouette, in half-shadow, blurred out, viewed from behind, or even decapitated by the camera.

That tactic gets in the way of the film frankly. Since you never see the defectors, you never really feel their pain or know their travails. The only people who come across clearly are Shin herself and a border guard between Laos and Thailand, who, in a brief snippet, talks about buying sanitary pads for fleeing women who emerge from the mountains. Otherwise, if you're anything like me, you'll be struggling to figure out who these people are exactly. "I want to throw away my past," says one, and to a certain degree, the anonymity granted her in this film ensures that she can! (Although growing prejudice against North Koreans by South Koreans won't make that easy.)

A secondary story about one Mr. Heo, a North Korean refugee applying for residency in Canada, feels like a distraction — despite his willingness to face the camera without any filters. There's little tension in this part of Shin's movie since you can hardly fathom the Canadian government will reject his application. (He's got a wife and child, no less!) And Heo's efforts to help a fellow North Korean exile track down the whereabouts of her daughter lead nowhere. Perhaps as a North American countryman, Shin simply felt obliged to include his own journey as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment