New Documentary Features 2 NK Defectors

Review by A. P. (an LFNKR director)

“The Defector,” a newly released documentary film follows two young women, Sook Ja and Yong Hee, whose experiences in escaping from North Korea are common to many women who have defected from that country.

The film opens with Sook-ja, whose older sister had left seven years earlier to seek work in China. The sister had planned to send money back to her family. Using an illegal cell phone, Sook-ja tries to contact her elder sister, but this phone call leads to her arrest by the North Korean police. Imprisoned, she vows to escape and flee the country.

The other character, Yong Hee, is living in hiding in China. Eight years earlier she had met a women who led her into China with the promise of food and work. Instead, Yong Hee was sold as a “bride” to a Chinese farmer. There she has lived in seclusion for the entire eight years, fearing arrest by the Chinese police. When she hears about a broker named Dragon, she decides to attempt to escape to Canada.

Eventually, Sook Ja and Yong Hee meet through Dragon, their broker.

While Sook Ja and Yong Hee are hiding in a shelter in China, they are visited by a Korean-Canadian Documentary filmmaker named Ann Shin. The two women are deeply frightened by the visit. They have had no advance warning of Dragon’s arrangement with Ms. Shin. Their first meeting with the director is their first hint that they are to be the leading characters in Ms. Shin’s planned documentary “The Defector.”

The film does not disclose how or why the broker risks such a dangerous agreement. It is only known that the director Ann Shin contacted Dragon through some earlier defectors who had resettled in Canada. From there, she decided to visit the shelter in China that they had used. Later, Ms. Shin commented that she was disappointed that Dragon had not told the two defectors about the film, but, she says, “I didn’t want to waste the opportunity after coming all that way.”

Although we don’t know how willing the two defectors actually were to appear in the film, it would obviously have been very hard to disobey Dragon, since their survival depended on him.

The trailer clearly shows that the quality of “The Defector” is high, but the director was careless in processing the faces of the defectors to safeguard their identities.

The film should be praised for focusing world attention on the serious issue of North Korean refugees who daily risk their lives to escape.

On the other hand, I’m afraid the director’s lack of attention to the importance of the defectors’ security is quite reckless. The faces in this film are very likely to be seen by Chinese and North Korean authorities, and the defectors, wherever they may eventually emigrate to, could be seized, returned covertly, and subjected to severe punishments, up to and including execution.