Thursday, January 05, 2006

Tales of North Korea's Underground Railroad

Seoul Train is an earnest and enterprising project, if not a brilliant documentary. Ms. Sleeth and Mr. Butterworth managed to acquire film shot by refugees and activists of the Asian Underground Railroad. These sequences - images of what Human Rights Watch has called "the world's largest prison camp" - are what make the film: they show improvised encampments of children scrabbling for food, far from the absurdist pageantry of Kim Jong Il

Similarly absorbing is film shot with smuggled cameras during harrowing escape attempts. In one attempt, the refugees, led by a handsome hero of the Underground Railroad called Chun Ki-won, make it to a safe house in Yanji, China; they also give interviews to the camera. They appear to be taking a breath before their next sprint - one would hope to Mongolia, where the authorities are less apt than the Chinese to return them to North Korea.

A 17-year-old girl is shown calling her grandmother in South Korea, promising to see her soon. The others talk about their religious faith. "I can't feel good or bad," one woman says. "Everything now is up to God."

Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, appears as a prophet here, saying: "We're going to look back in 10 years after North Korea opens up. We're going to see millions of people dead. And we're going say: 'Why didn't you act? Why didn't you do something?' "

[Excerpt from an article by Virginia Heffernan, New York Times]

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