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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Camp 14: Total Control Zone review: George Orwell was an optimist

by MaryAnn Johanson

Camp 14 Total Control Zone green light Shin Dong-Huyk

The only person known to have escaped from a North Korean re-education camp reveals some 1984-level shit, except it’s worse, because it’s not fiction… and, more’s the pity for humanity, not too terribly surprising.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is some 1984-level shit right here, except it’s worse, because it’s not fiction. Shin Dong-Huyk escaped from one of North Korea’s “re-education camps” — the only person known to have done so — and then to China, and then to South Korea. Now he works with U.S. human-rights organization Liberty in North Korea, sharing his firsthand experience of the worst totalitarian practices of the secretive regime with anyone who will listen. He shares them here, in a documentary by German filmmaker Marc Wiese, and the more he talks, the deeper the descent into real-life, human-afflicted horror. It’s not even the worst thing we learn from Shin that he committed no crime, not even one of the absurdly minor ones that could get someone branded a political dissident, like neglecting to add a particular honorific when discussing Dear Leader. No: Shin was born in the camp, the child of prisoners. (It’s not even the worst thing we learn that the camp is more like a slave town, with 20 to 30 thousand inmates-for-life.) His first memory is of going to a public execution with his mother when he was perhaps four years old. He was doing forced labor in the camp’s coal mine from the age of six. Gray, dismal animation accompanies Shin’s stories about life in the camp, and Wiese expands on Shin’s perspective — and removes all doubt that Shin is telling the truth — with interviews with former camp guards, one of whom smuggled out footage of an interrogation. If it’s “exhausting” for Shin to talk about his experience, so it is for us, too: mentally and emotional. How can people be so awful to one another? Wiese develops a motif that suggests that the guards were nearly as much prisoners, and certainly were victims of psychological conditioning, too… but someone is in charge, and the attitudes and ideas that prop up a culture like the one that gives birth to such nightmares as children being taught to rat out their parents come from somewhere. Wiese has no answers, which is no criticism of his effort to ask the questions. I originally wondered that Shin comes across as sane as he does… but now I wonder whether we all have to be a little insane to find ourselves not too terribly surprised by anything he has to tell us.

Watch Camp 14: Total Control Zone on iTunes and blinkbox.


Amazon UK DVD
Camp 14: Total Control Zone (2013)
UK release date: Oct 4 2013 (VOD same day)

BBFC: rated 12A (contains images of real violence and references to torture)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    There seems to be some evidence that in the right sort of culture bad ideas can become orthodoxy simply because nobody dares to say “no, we don’t do stuff like this”. That seems to have been a big part of the Abu Ghraib culture of torture, for example.

  • aleddie1

    It’s unbelievable to compare Abu Ghraib to the North Korean Gulags. You have no idea what is to live under a totalitarian tyranny and hope you never have to.

  • bronxbee

    you’re right and we don’t want to. but if we continue to ignore abu gharaib and the culture it engenders, we will slowly, incrementally, and then very rapidly come to accept those conditions and treatments as normal and will accept it happening to our neighbors, or even relatives.

  • But American do now live in a nation where they can be imprisoned on the President’s say-so — or even executed — with no due process and no access to legal representation. Simply because this power has not yet been used on a mass scale doesn’t make it any less totalitarian.

  • aleddie1

    Regarding the Iraqi prison, that was the act of idiotic soldiers, but what scares me is the superpower given to the government supposedly to protect the citizenship. You are right; that’s the way these people work, relentlessly, step by step and one day we will wake up under a totalitarian regime and will ask: What happened? You can see what happened in Boston. Police searching homes without a warrant and most people agreed, because they felt safer.

  • bronxbee

    that’s sadly true.

  • dave

    Watch the freaking movie for god’s sake!
    YES, it’s true that we in the free world must be vigilant to the dangers of tyranny, but to make this comparison is grotesque and damned offensive.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Children being taught to rat out their parents is hardly a novel part of Communist culture. It happened in the Stalin-era Soviet Union all the time. Nor does the practice show any sign of vanishing from the Communist world — alas.

  • I think you need to develop your reading skills. I said no such thing.

    I DID say that America is now a nation where citizens can be imprisoned on the President’s say-so — or even executed — with no due process and no access to legal representation. Are you saying this isn’t true?

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