Human rights and moral wrongs in North Korea…
Shin Dong-hyuk sits in a simple, small apartment devoid of most furniture, his only comfort a thin mattress on the floor. Looking into his expressionless, sombre eyes, anyone not familiar with Camp 14’s subject matter might think they are about to watch a documentary about drugs or homelessness. But Dong-hyuk had a home in North Korea – he just wasn’t allowed to leave it. “When it comes to my body, I live in South Korea. But in my mind, I still live in the camp,” says the 31-year-old. And as the horrors of that environment unfold, that’s not a pleasant thought.
Born in a slave camp in North-Korea following the arranged marriage of two political prisoners by a guard, Dong-hyuk had committed no crime himself but was subject to the same strict regime enforced upon the thousands who lived there. His first memory, aged just four years old, is of death, while his enforced labour in the mines started aged six. The film’s subtitle – Total Control Zone – is well earned. Young inmates didn’t question beatings that went on for hours because they knew the camp’s rules and its punishments. It seemed normal to them. How could it not, in a place where the main set of laws all end with the phrase “…will be shot immediately”.
Director Marc Wiese allows his subjects the time to breath in front of the camera, letting the silences say as much as their testimonies. Narrator Steven Charles gives Dong-hyuk a voice, adding depth to his words in a way that subtitles never could. Two former secret policemen also give a frank account of their actions as guards in the camp and the casual way they discuss murder and the abuse of women prisoners is as shocking as Dong-hyuk’s own story. Yet it’s the drab, grey/brown animation that fills in the blanks of Dong-hyuk’s tale that is truly heart breaking, as the story of his family is slowly and shockingly revealed.
Perhaps the ending is saddest of all, though, as Dong-hyuk gives his views on the way modern society deals with its “freedom”. He may still live in the camp in his mind, but he genuinely pities the rest of us.
Camp 14: Total Control Zone is released on DVD in the UK on 28 October 2013.