Friday, February 09, 2007

Crossing the Line, the story of Joe Dresnok

Crossing the Line, a new British documentary, narrated by Christian Slater, details the story of Joe Dresnok, the last living defector to North Korea.

60 minutes also did a segment on Dresnok, using footage directly from the documentary, plus interviews with the filmmakers and some footage of their earlier segment on Charlie Jenkins.

Dresnok had enlisted in the U.S. Army to make a life for himself, but after a dispute with his Commanding Officer over trying to get a pass, he forged a pass and the 19-year-old decided to cross the line and set off for North Korea. He was eventually found by some North Koreans and debriefed. While he had no real strategic information to offer the North Koreans he was a definite PR coup. They would use him and the other defectors to denounce western imperialism.

For the first ten years in North Korea these four American defectors underwent education, which consisted of reading in between card games and drinking. (At one point they tried to defect again to the Soviet Union, but were turned away). The four American would eventually marry women from Lebanon, Eastern Europe, Japan, and Korea. After their education period of ten years ended, they became famous in North Korea as actors in a series of anti-western films, playing the "evil Americans".

The film details the dynamics of the four defectors, Jenkins being the highest ranking and often at odds with Dresnok. Two of the defectors would die in their fifties and when Jenkins left North Korea during the filming, Dresnok was the last American defector living in Korea. His first wife died (with whom he had a son) and he would eventually marry a half African half Korean woman and have a son with her.

Ultimately Dresnok describes his experience in Korea as a good one. During the his time in Korea, even during the recent famine he said his rice ration was never lowered and he is shown on the street walking around or fishing off the pier with locals. The film ends showing Dresnok in poor health, and disregarding his physician’s advice to stop smoking.

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