Crossing the Line


James Joseph Dresnok’s voice is heavy with age and cigarettes, but not regret. The last of four 1960s American deserters still living in North Korea and the subject of Crossing the Line, Dresnok is finally ready to talk about his 45 years in Pyongyang, and he’s a born storyteller. This is director Daniel Gordon’s third documentary set in the axis of evil’s darkest horse. Despite the extremely rare opportunity to shoot the people living in the notoriously, radically closed-off nation, Gordon focuses on the lugubrious musings of our most shameful expat, the infighting between Dresnok and fellow defector Charles Jenkins, and a brief history of the Korean conflict. Following a little psychological recon, which posits Dresnok as an orphan who often ran away as a child to cope, Gordon treats his bolt across the DMZ at the age of 20 as something of a natural progression. Using archival footage (including fascinating clips of Nameless Heroes, a Kim Jong Il production that starred all of the defectors as evil Americans) and staged re-creations for dramatic punctuation, the reflective sequences veer between stylishly effective and drearily overstated. Decaying and illiterate, with a mouthful of metal teeth, Dresnok himself belies his advertisements for the greatness of North Korea; when the overweight puppet wobbles with gratitude over not suffering a single hunger pang while hundreds of thousands of Koreans died of starvation in 1995, you’ll be glad he’s in the hands of the Dear Leader.