Camp 14 (N. Korea)

Camp 14: Total Control Zone uses interviews and footage of a North Korean re-education camp to paint a shocking portrait of inhumanity. This is the harrowing story of Shin Dong-huyk, who was born inside a labor camp as the child of political prisoners and raised in a world where his life was in the hands of guards without the protection of a judicial system. When he was four years old, he and his mother were forced to witness the execution of an inmate — and later he watched his teacher beat a girl student to death. This is a powerful story of survival by the only person to have been born in and escape from a prison labor camp in North Korea. He escaped at age 23 in 2005, launching into an outside world he had never known. This documentary consists of interviews in South Korea with three people: the youth raised in the camp, and two former labor camp guards. Most of the movie is the young man telling his story, and it alternates between live photography of him in South Korea and gray animation in anime-style of his story while inside the camp. The remarks of the two guards lend authenticity and credibility to the youth’s account. They are all brave men for coming out of darkness to tell their stories. Their statements are important to let the world know what is happening there. What disturbed me most was listening to the guards describe in a matter-of-fact manner how they tortured, raped, and killed at will. One guard says, “In the camps a human life has the same value as a fly.” Extreme cruelty is described. This documentary only depicts a single blurry 30 second video of an interrogation (a bound woman being clubbed on the head by a guard during questioning), but that is all it takes to understand what horrors must occur behind those walls. If you want to understand the psychological hold totalitarian regimes can exert on their citizens, this is the film to watch. It reveals what humans are capable of simply because of what they have been taught is acceptable. This is an epic first-hand account revealing atrocities mankind commits. It’s hard to imagine that work/death camps still exist today. One thing that stood out was the young man telling of his lack of emotion as a child. He had no idea he was supposed to be sad over the executions of his mother and brother. He tells us that he felt no emotion over his classmate being beaten to death, nor when he witnessed other executions. As a person who experienced trauma as a child, I understand the inclusion of long pauses by the young man in the film. Those who have experienced trauma know there is much beyond words. His verbal silences speak to that, but do not make the mistake of thinking nothing is being communicated during those times. You’re left to wonder at what Shin must be feeling and thinking then. Watch his hand movements, his body language, his eyes. Much is also communicated by showing Shin alone in his apartment, alone at restaurants, alone in virtually every circumstance — he is clearly an outsider looking in. The film is deliberately slow to emphasize the sadness of the tragedies that weigh on this young man, and how it has scarred him emotionally and physically. It’s predominantly quiet firsthand narration and testimony. You can sense the discomfort of the interviewees, and you can see the emotional strain of having to recount their experiences. Here is a young man raised without a concept that people could “socialize” and talk to each other just for the sake of talking. You can understand why he says in the beginning of the film that he prefers to be alone. It’s probably more comfortable for him not to talk. I also think Asian cultures (I’m North Korean) are used to silence even within the context of conversation. But I can understand some contemporary viewers’ could be frustrated with the slow pace of the film. We’re brought up with sound bites and visuals lasting a few seconds. Yes, there are several long pauses, but given what he had been through I thought the least I could do was sit through the silence with him. Surprisingly, the perspective at the end is what you wouldn’t expect. What will surprise you is his displeasure and discomfort after escape with being introduced to a free capitalist society and the pressures of money. The documentary ends with his complaints about living in a capitalist society that he wasn’t raised to exist in. I wish I could meet Shin and give him a big hug. He is quoted in Wikipedia as saying “I think I am still evolving — from an animal to a human”. He states his physical body is in South Korea, but his mind is still in the camp. We hear about how awful North Korea is, but compared to the camp he thought it was paradise.  I didn’t know what life in those camps is like until I saw this documentary. I recommend this film as a must watch for all those who have no idea of what goes on in North Korea’s labor camps. This is the best film on North Korea I have seen. It may help to also watch an overview film such as National Geographic’s Inside North Korea. The whole world should know what’s going on in North Korea, and this film is a good starting point. My heart breaks for the thousands still living this story. Hard to believe such a country exists that allows children who’ve done no wrong to be born and raised in such camps. This is basically the life story of a child who was born in a torture chamber. It’s been a long time since I have seen anything so disturbing. Definitely learned something from this — learned a lot about human nature and how horribly people can treat other human beings. If you care about current human rights issues, you should see this. If you are sad, please go watch cartoons and smile. This is powerful enough to crush your faith in humanity. This is definitely worth watching if you’re looking to gain a better understanding of North Korea. Wow! What a powerful documentary. This was truly one of the most heart-breaking documentaries I have ever seen. Very moving. Completely riveting. Thought provoking. Profound. As political documentaries go, this is one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. I would recommend this to anyone. I think this is an important film with a message that everyone should see. This should be mandatory viewing for all citizens above the age of 13 years old in the United States, and everyone in the world should see this. This documentary may change your life. It’s more than 5 stars — it’s more like ******************************. Documentary 2012 NR 101 minutes.

The book may be even better than the movie. It’s called Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. It is well-written and fascinating, so I would recommend it to anyone interested in North Korea and human rights. The book is filled with remarkable details about many aspects of Shin’s upbringing, mindset, detainment, experiences, relationships, escape, and aftermath that are missing from the film. This documentary compliments the book, which really drives home the horrors of North Korea’s prison camp system. Read the book for a better and more complete understanding.

SEE ALSO:

Inside North Korea

Films on the Holocaust

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