Camp 14: Total Control Zone Review

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Camp 14: Total Control Zone Review

By Gordon Foote.

Well…that was bleak.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I expected a documentary about the life of a man who escaped from a North Korean death camp to be cheery, but…wow…that was 1 hour 41 minutes of unrelenting, hard-hitting, stomach-turning bleakness. But I’m very glad I watched it.



Shin Dong-Huyk is 29 years old and lives in Seoul, South Korea. This, in and of itself is perhaps not worthy of a documentary, I grant you. But what makes Shin worth almost two hours of your time is that he was born in a Camp 14 – a North Korean internment camp for political prisoners. A camp from which, people are not supposed to leave…ever.

This Hell-on-Earth provides the setting for Marc Weise’s affecting documentary, plunging us into a world where rape, beatings, torture, and public executions are commonplace, and where the slightest hint of disobedience is met with instant death.   Listening to Shin’s memories of his 23 year stay at Camp 14 is as sobering as it is sickening, seeming to set new lows for Man’s inhumanity to Man.

At times, the tales seem so horrific that they cause you to doubt anyone could treat another person in such a way, but the documentary does not solely rely on our young escapee for evidence, also introducing an ex-secret police officer and a warder from another of the camps – Shin’s words are reinforced, as the guilt-riddled pair recount their own actions from their time of service.

Wiese clearly knows that, sometimes, it’s hard to stare down situations like this, easier to ignore them and let them do their own wee thing in the corner where no one is looking.  But, here, he forces his audience to soak in North Korea’s treatment of its own citizens, holding shots past the arrival of awkwardness and well into uncomfortable.  On more than one occasion, Shin asks if they can take a break, so upset is he by dredging up the painful memories of his childhood, yet the camera continues to roll, showing us the true extent of the man’s suffering, even now, almost a decade after his escape from Camp 14.

In a highly effective move, Wiese opts to visually represent many of Shin Dong-Huyk’s memories via simplistic animated segments, the child-like art work of Ali Soozandeh proving strangely apt in bringing the camp to life and supplementing its malevolence.

The story is not all doom-and-gloom though, I’m pleased to report, with Shin’s current work with LINK (Liberty In North Korea) being highlighted too.  Since his escape, he has been on a world tour – telling his story across the western world to raise awareness of the plight of the (estimated) 200,000 people who still reside within North Korea’s gulags.  Though little time is given to the specifics of LINK’s cause, they seem like an enthusiast bunch with much whooping and high-fiving going on…which is nice….to be honest,  at that point in the documentary I’d have taken a half smile to break up the unremitting bleakness, so an office full of over-excited campaigners went down very well!

An upsetting and emotional ride, Camp 14: Total Control Zone is not an easy watch, but it remains an important piece of filmmaking, nonetheless.   In much the same way that class after class of history students learn about Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Russia, each year, it is important that we remind ourselves regularly that atrocities and heinous crimes are still committed, and cannot be allowed to proliferate, simply because its distasteful for us to acknowledge them.

4/5

GF


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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