“Crossing the Line” (2006) dir. Daniel Gordon and Nicholas Bonner

“Crossing the Line” is a fascinating documentary about James J. Dresnok, a former U.S. soldier who defected to North Korea in 1962.  Dresnok grew up on the short end of lot of misfortunes in his youth.  His parents divorced when he was 10 years old, briefly lived with his father, and was then placed into foster care.  He joined the Army at 17 years of age, got married soon afterwards, and then divorced his first wife after he found out she cheated on him with another man.  Facing a court martial for going AWOL while stationed in South Korea, he cast his fate to the wind, elected to cross the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and defected to North Korea.  Along with three other US soliders who defected to North Korea, Dresnok’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the better, becoming an important part of the North Korean propaganda machine.  He even became a movie star in North Korea, starring as an American villain in the 20-part North Korean film series “Unsung Heroes.”

In the film, Dresnok is unrepentant in his love for his adopted country.  However, it’s worth noting that his success is in direct contrast to the fate of many North Koreans who have suffered under the repressive regimes of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-il.  While Dresnok expresses no regrets about his decisions, he also has health problems as the result of a lifetime of heavy drinking and smoking.  It doesn’t take a Psych 101 student to conclude there may be a lot of internal doubt on Dresnok’s part about his choices.

“Crossing the Line” is a brilliant portrayal of what happens when a man sells his soul during a weak moment and the toll such decisions play on that man throughout his life.

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