Monday, June 02, 2008

Drama focuses on horror of North Korean re-education camps

Some of the most tragic experiences of a [North Korean refugee's] life have made it into a wrenching South Korean film, a father and son attempting to escape North Korea and the brutal re-education camps.

As a North Korean miner whose undernourished, pregnant wife contracts tuberculosis, [the lead character] with no medicine available in the impoverished nation, leaves his wife and 11-year-old son to travel to China to work, earn money and buy drugs. While away, his wife dies, and his son becomes a wandering orphan. The starving child attempts to escape to China, but is captured and placed in a re-education camp - where the film's most harrowing scenes take place. A bribe arranged by his father, now in South Korea, breaks him out of the camp. The film's jarring finale takes place in the Mongolian Desert.

Avoiding the melodrama of many South Korean films, "Crossing" is relentless in its detailed, docudrama approach. A cross-border trader and his family are seized by secret police in a midnight raid. Ragged orphans beg in destitute markets. Camp guards kick a pregnant woman in China in the stomach.

The life of Yoo Sang-jun, now a Seoul-based Christian activist, mirrors much of the plot of "Crossing."

After losing his wife and a son during the North Korean famine of the late 1990s, he escaped to China with his surviving son, Chul-min. Despairing of making a living, and in fear of deportation - Chinese authorities routinely send North Korean defectors home, where many face terrible punishment - Mr. Yoo put the boy into foster care while he attempted to escape to Seoul. He reached South Korea and worked as a laborer, earning money to pay smugglers to bring his son out of China. In 2002, Chul-min set off from China for Mongolia to reunite with his father. In the barren frontier between the countries, lost, weak and exhausted, his second child died from exposure. Yoo Chul-min is buried under a wooden cross in the Mongolian desert. He was 10 years old.

German human rights activist Norbert Vollertsen, who briefly knew Yoo Chul-min, has arranged for the film to be screened in July at the European Parliament. He said the film took him back to his time working as an aid doctor in rural North Korea.

"It would be pertinent if China's leadership watched this film," said Tim Peters, an American activist and friend of Mr. Yoo's who attended the screening. "With the stroke of a pen, they could stop thousands of tragedies."

[ Excerpt of an article by Andrew Salmon, The Washington Times]

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