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).
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