Korean defector Kim Young-soon is a beautiful woman. The same is probably true of her sister, Mi-hee,
but viewers cannot tell for certain.
That is because her face is kept scrupulously obscured to protect her
from potential reprisals in North Korea.
Unfortunately, it might be too late for her already, but her sister will
still doggedly pursue any means possible to bring her over the border in Hein S.
Seok’s documentary, Seeking Haven, which screens on
the opening night of the 2013 Korean American Film Festival in New York.
we first meet the Kim sisters, they are living in an underground shelter for
defectors in China. They are relatively
happy times, because the sisters are together and have sufficient food to
survive. However, they live in the
constant fear of exposure and repatriation to North Korea. Eventually, Kim Young-soon sets off on the
arduous journey to lasting freedom, overland through China and Laos to
Thailand, where North Korean defectors are formally recognized as legitimate
political asylum seekers.
is a hard trek, involving several narrow escapes from various border patrols,
dramatically captured by Seok’s cameras.
Unfortunately, when Kim finally arrives in South Korea via the Bangkok
embassy, she learns the Chinese authorities raided her former safe house and
deported her sister back to the DPRK.
For the rest of the film, she will periodically return to China, where
she will deal with various dodgy brokers, in the hopes they can arrange transit
for her family, or at least bring back news on their situation.
surprisingly, Kim suffers from a powerful case of survivor’s guilt. Yet, she is only in her early twenties and
fully entitled to live her own life.
Viewers will want to offer her emotional comfort, as they start to
suspect the worst for her family. While
just under an hour, Haven contains
more reality than a month of network television. These are real people, feeling real fears, as
they face life-and-death situations.
Haven tells a very
personal story, but it is also a rather shocking expose, capturing the perils endured
by North Korean defectors through a few hidden cameras and considerable
chutzpah. While it is comparatively circumspect in addressing the sort of
persecution that is an everyday reality in North Korea, this is clearly out of
concern for the Kims and other family members of defectors. Nonetheless, the
obvious fear of potential repercussions speaks volumes regarding the appalling
state of human rights in the DPRK.
Young-soon is an achingly compelling POV figure who hopefully will find peace
and happiness in the next phase of her life.
She certainly commands viewer sympathies. Haven is
a gutsy doc, shot guerilla-style in nations like China and Laos that do no respect
basic freedoms of expression. For a
touch of celebrity, Moon Bloodgood serves as narrator, demonstrating a nice
voice for such work. Highly recommended,
it screens this Thursday (10/24) at the Village East Cinema as part of this
Labels: Documentary, KAFFNY '13, Moon Bloodgood, North Korea