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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

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

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.


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watch at home

Camp 14: Total Control Zone (2013)
UK/Ire release: 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

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