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Crossing the Line


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Crossing the Line + National Geographic - Inside North Korea + ABC News Primetime North Korea: Inside the Shadows
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Product Details

  • Actors: James Joseph Dresnok, Christian Slater, Daniel Gordon, Charles Robert Jenkins
  • Directors: Daniel Gordon
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English, Korean
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: KINO INTERNATIONAL
  • DVD Release Date: January 8, 2008
  • Run Time: 91 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000XJD3HU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #211,805 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features

None.

Editorial Reviews

Product Description

An unforgettable documentary (New York Daily News), Crossing the Line is the absolutely fascinating (Hollywood Reporter) story of James Joseph Dresnok, a US Army private who in 1962 stunned the world by walking across the violently contested DMZ that cuts Korea in two and defecting to the communist North. Taking full advantage of access granted by the government of North Korea, the axis of evil s mysterious and feared rogue state, director Daniel Gordon (The Game of Their Lives, A State of Mind) combines historical footage with contemporary interviews to both uncover the Kim-Jong Il regime and end 44 years of secrecy and rumor by allowing Dresnok to tell his own story. Despite spending more than half his life living, working, and raising a family in North Korea, Comrade Joe, as Western media dubbed Dresnok when he walked into infamy at the height of the Cold War, remains a man of eternally divided loyalties. From his appalling childhood in a rural 1950 s Virginia foster home, to interviews with his fellow GI s, to amazing footage (New York Post) of Dresnok playing the villain in Kim-Jong Il s personally produced propaganda films, Crossing the Line makes an already compelling story even more so (Hollywood Reporter) by intimately revealing a character worthy of Werner Herzog s delusional hero-victims (New York Sun).

Amazon.com

A State of Mind, British filmmaker Daniel Gordon's excellent 2003 documentary about North Korea, was billed as "a complex exploration of one of the world's most closed nations." Released in 2008, Gordon's Crossing the Line addresses the same subject from a very different point of view: that of one James Joseph Dresnok, a U.S. Army private who, while stationed in the Demilitarized Zone that separates that country from its neighbor to the south in 1962, abruptly decided to defect. It's a strange and fascinating tale, all the more so because much of it is told by "Comrade Joe" himself. Dresnok wasn't the first American soldier to defect; nor was he the last (a total of four young men crossed over between '62 and '65), or the most notorious (Charles Robert Jenkins made international headlines when he and his Japanese-born wife left North Korea in 2004; that same year he turned himself in to an American military base in Japan and was sentenced to 30 days for desertion). The other two defectors are now dead, but Dresnok is still in Pyongyang, married to a Korean-Togolese woman (his second wife) and the father of three children. Indeed, he calls it home, and says he has "never regretted" going there, despite the fact that North Korea is, as the documentary puts it, "the most inaccessible, anti-American country in the world." Director Gordon makes liberal and artful use of file footage and photos (including many vintage shots of the four Americans; they also appear in clips from Nameless Heroes, a '78 propaganda film that cast them as wretchedly evil Capitalists), and while a variety of others are interviewed, including both Koreans and Americans, it's Dresnok himself who is consistently riveting. His protestations to the contrary notwithstanding (he vehemently defends his adopted country against accusations made by Jenkins and others), this is a man who is clearly rather conflicted; now in his mid-'60s, he cries freely while recalling his early life and viewing old footage supplied by the filmmakers. Christian Slater provides the voice-over narration for this remarkable DVD, which includes still photos and an interview with the director among its bonus features. --Sam Graham

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 56 customer reviews
Good documentary about the life of American soldiers who deserted to North Korea during Korean war.
K. Z.
Dresnok's story is an almost perfect recipe on how to psychologically screw up a child so that he remains wounded well into adulthood.
Fez Monkey
The documentary also explores the lives of the other three American defectors and Dresnok speaks of them freely as well.
Anne-Marie G

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Torsten W. Krauel on March 12, 2008
Format: DVD
Technically brilliant, considering the subject -- fast-paced camera, excellent cuts, thoughtful shot angles.

Mr.Dresnok, living in Pyongyang since 1962, does the narrative himself. He comes across as a convivial, honest, lying, brutal character, you name it, and saddened beyond repair. "You do not like fishing?", a North Korean sitting next to him at the river remarks casually, causing Mr.Dresnok to ever so slightly draw a hasty cigarette drag.

There it is, the truth of a squandered life in an alien country. The Korean angler sensed it.

There is a certain twisted authenticity to him, a bullyish bonhomy that makes him look almost great to have a beer with at a sports bar at one moment, and look sadistic without further advance notice the next, with nothing but just seconds to spare inbetween.

The famous defector foe/friend (it's hard to tell at times) Robert Jenkins, now relocated to Japan, gets an earful from Mr.Dresnok for having spilled some truths. At that moment, Mr.Dresnok's outrage is a staged emotion, given the Party cadre sitting next to him. The documentary seems to not be entirely fair and balanced on this particular subject, although it serves as an interesting "audio et altera pars" to Mr.Jenkins' autobiography.

Mr.Dresnok, though, knows what his former rocky yet close relationship to the re-defected defector Jenkins calls for: some harsh words, that come across as totally insincere. In the end, this unhappy man is a simple soul who turned himself in for life at a moment's whim.

He genuinely loves his likeable grown-up son who has "Richmond, VA Caucasian college student" written all over his face, yet does barely speak English with a pronounced Korean accent and is going to be, of all choices, a North Korean diplomat.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Brandt VINE VOICE on February 20, 2008
Format: DVD
I saw this documentary at a local video store and I am glad I rented it. James Dresnok (spelling?) had a less than stellar life growing up. Neglected as a child and never finding his way to the "American Dream" he ended up in the Army on the DMZ. A documentary crew was allowed to go to North Korea to interview Mr. Dresnok who has spent his life since 1962 in that Stalinist state. It's an interesting documentary as it also points out that three other soldiers defected to North Korea around the same time. Dresnok is an interesting interview and his "escape" across the minefields, his interrogation by North Korean leaders and his "fame" as a "movie star" in North Korea portraying the U.S. as the Imperalist Evil General in their movies was fascinating to say the least.

Dresnok is a likable person at times and at other times I sat and wondered just how sad he really is in his life. Still, he seems content and he paints an interesting portrayal of life as a man, a husband and a father to his children in North Korea. When the documentary was over I learned a little bit about North Korea and about an American who found his "peace" in that Stalinist regime.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on April 20, 2009
Format: DVD
British director Daniel Gordon has a kind of franchise in North Korea, making films for the West that represent that country from surprising (state-approved) angles - this one curiously about defectors from the US Army who crossed the DMZ from South Korea in the early 1960s. The most prominent of them, James Dresnok from Richmond, Virginia, after a troubled childhood and a failed marriage, found a home there for himself arguably better than any he'd had before. Joined by three others, not unlike himself, he adapted to the culture and became a film star, playing "evil Americans." Meanwhile, he has been married twice and raised children.

Professing to be happy and well looked after by the government, even during the decades of food shortages and starvation that took the lives of uncounted North Koreans, Dresnok is an ambiguous presence in the film, though he has plenty of screen time. At the end, you know you have been told a coherent story of a man's life that is surely only partly the truth that it claims to be. Now in his 60s and in poor health, he comes across as sentimental at times, a gas bag at others, and finally capable of the beatings that he's been accused of by another American soldier who recently returned to the West with his own story to tell. The interview with the director sheds some much needed light on the more mysterious aspects of the entire film, but what we are left with at the end are unanswered questions that we're not likely ever to have answers to. Fascinating.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fez Monkey on April 14, 2011
Format: DVD
At the outset, "Crossing the Line" seems as if it's going to be one of those conventional narratvies that details the reason behind PFC James Dresnok's odd choice of defecting to the DPRK in 1962. We're presented with the standard biographical summary, complete with subdued music, old photographs, and snippets of memories that's been a staple of documentaries since Ken Burns' Civil War.

However, it becomes clear after about 15 minutes that this isn't your run-of-the-mill "Time" Magazine type of story. Instead, "Crossing the Link" quickly becomes less a documentary about why Dresnok decided to walks across the DMZ into North Korea (thus "crossing the line"), and more a voyeuristic examination on the psychology of alienation and the degree to which people can delude themselves in their search for belonging.

Dresnok's story is an almost perfect recipe on how to psychologically screw up a child so that he remains wounded well into adulthood. His childhood and post-adolescence are an almost non-stop series of devastating abandonment and betrayal from everyone important in his development: parents, relatives, and his first wife. This sort of damage is some heavy dope for a child, so it's no wonder that several times in the film Dresnok stated that his main goal in life was to "run away."

It also explains why his defection to the DPRK - something that was an act of opportunity - ended up being such a good fit for him. It's really no surprise. In North Korea Dresnok finally found the perfect family: one that would not abandon him so long as he never abandons it. And, this desire of belonging and craving a simple life in which permanence and security are guaranteed is repeated consistently throughout the movie.
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