Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Crossing the Line

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Defector Bio-Pic Provides Peek behind the Bamboo Curtain

In 1962, PFC James Joseph Dresnok, a U.S. Army soldier stationed in Korea defected to the Communist side simply by walking across the 2.5 mile-wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the heavily-fortified strip of land which splits the peninsula into North and South. Behind the Bamboo Curtain, Comrade Joe came to be something of a celebrity, since he willingly starred in a string of propaganda films as the evil American. He also functioned as the male version of Tokyo Rose in broadcasts back across the border encouraging other GIs to throw down their weapons and join him.
Only a total of four enlisted men did defect during the conflict, and another twenty POWs voluntarily opted to remain after the cessation of hostilities. Today, Dresnok is the only one still living there, which must be the only reason for having Crossing the Line revolve around him. Unfortunately, as the subject of a bio-pic, he proves to be terribly uncharismatic. Directed by Brit Daniel Gordon, the picture desperately attempts to build him into a larger than life figure, but again and again he comes across as just an Average Joe.
Besides allowing himself to be used as a Communist tool, exactly how has he spent the past 45 years? Nothing notable here: he learned the native language, married twice, raised kids, smoked like a chimney, abused alcohol, and now suffers from an expected assortment of ailments of someone of his age and track record. Not exactly compelling stuff, especially if you caught the 60 Minutes segment about this traitor covering substantially the same ground which recently ran on CBS.
I suppose the documentary’s saving grace is that it offers a peek at life inside North Korea, a closed society which has previously granted the Western press very limited access. Gordon and his film crew were permitted to shoot not only around the country’s capital, Pyongyang, but in the DMZ as well.
However, the bulk of the screen time is devoted to tete-a-tetes with Dresnok, who pretty much tows the party line while claiming to be happy as a clam. This comes as no surprise since he also admits to having received preferential treatment while hundreds of thousands were starving, ostensibly in return for his continued cooperation with the repressive regime.
He also rattles off some self-serving rationalizations for having deserted in the first place, namely, a combination of an impending court martial, a horrible childhood, and a bad first marriage. Emotionally upsetting, undoubtedly, but not enough to switch political loyalties over in this critic’s humble opinion.

Good (2 stars)
In Korean and English with subtitles.
Running time: 94 minutes
Studio: Kino International

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