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South Korea 2008


Kim Tae-gyu

Kim In-pyo
Shin Myeong-cheol
Seo Young-hwa
Jeong In-gi
Joo Da-yeong
Lee Sang-ho

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Story: Kim Yong-soo (Kim In-pyo) is a former soccer player of North Korea who now works at a coal mine. Somehow he, although barely, manages to feed his family under the totalitarian regime, but his wife eventually falls ill and gets tuberculosis because of malnutrition. Since she is also pregnant it is difficult to find the appropriate medicine she needs and so Yong-soo decides to go to China in order to earn some money and get the medicine. Life in China as a refugee is hard, though, so that he goes to South Korea, eventually. When he wants to bring his family to South Korea, too, it is already too late for his wife. She died and their son Joon (Shin Myeong-cheol) is on his own trying to follow his father to China where he still believes him to be. Escaping his home country isn't easier for a child than it is for an adult, though, and so Joon is captured and brought into a labour camp. Yong-soo gets the news about the events in his home country and is now doing everything in his power to get his son to South Korea.

Review: "Crossing" has been recommended as South Korea's addition to the 2008 Oscars, yet hasn't been nominated in the end. And that's just fair, because even though many critics are being blinded by the movie's subject and thus outright excited about this drama the movie still is simply a tearjerker which oftentimes is way too manipulative when it comes to depicting the desperation of a North Korean refugee. However, the framework of the movie is actually quite fascinating and appealing. "Crossing" also deserves some praise for not being afraid of showing some extremely tough truths which stand as a direct low-blow. Especially the handling of the children in the labour camp is not for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, there is also a problematic good-and-evil-drawing apparent which is putting far too much contrast on each side and gives the movie almost a propaganda-like look at things, to be honest.

The film gives us an impression of the living conditions of Yong-soo's family and we get a look at life in a totalitarian country in which you have only bare necessities and in technological respects are still on the same level as when the country was divided. A TV is outright luxury and you should think twice about what programme you are watching on it, because one glance at the shows of the southern neighbor and suddenly government officials are standing on your doorstep and drag you into a labour camp. Even if you bribe the government whereever possible you won't have your peace of mind and have to live in constant fear to be suspected of being a southern spy.
The run-down houses, the dry soil and the almost dead looking country in general give a good impression of how life is over there, which is simply pitiable. "Crossing" also doesn't miss out on showing young orphans loitering in a sparsely arranged market in order to pick up waste that falls to the ground for food.

Yong-soo remains rather shallow as a character, but we understand right from the start why he leaves the country in order to get his hands on the medicine his wife needs and therefore we can sympathize with him, even if his actions may make him a traitor which also would have consequences for his family. In South Korea he lives very ascetic as he has a bad conscience having left his family in poverty and lead a good life himself. It is also shown how difficult or rather impossible politics, resp. bureaucracy makes it for him to get in contact with his family or return to his home country himself. In North Korea a very well done subplot surrounding Joon unfolds who meets the girl Mi-seon, the daughter of his former neighbor that is of the same age as him, in a labour camp. There the children are treated in a gruesame manner and if they can't keep up their bodies are simply thrown into some small storehoues where the rats take care of the rest.

It's more than anything else the subplot that makes you gulp and at some times sets the movie apart from a simple tearjerker. But exactly that is changed again when the string-heavy soundtrack kicks in and father and son are crying in each other's ears on the phone. The emotional scenes towards the end can't work out either. One reason for that is because the movie takes a too obvious route in moving the viewer and another is that neither Kim In-pyo ("Hanbando") nor child actor Shin Myeong-cheol are capable of shedding tears in a convincing manner. Their forced sobbing, which most likely was supposed to convey an especially big amount of despair, simply pulls us out of the movie and doesn't manage to make us share their pain at all. Furthermore, it is also difficult to grasp what role the bible is playing in the movie, which probably was supposed to deliver another motive that is never fleshed out appropriately. What's also annoying are the flashbacks, complete with slow motion and laughing faces that are coming along as some kind of contrast to the drama in order to make us remember the good times. This simply is too much kitsch.

"Crossing" at some points has even some epic character to it that isn't made good use of, though. Especially in the scenes in which Yong-soo or his son flee to China or Mongolia to cross the border to South Korea from there. There are also some nice shots here and all in all the movie manages to deliver an appealing polished exterior. However, director Kim Tae-gyun ("Volcano High, "A Millionaire's First Love") doesn't succeed in creating a drama that works aside from the obvious heartache and this even though the premise of the film had all the potential to ensure a serious and honest engagement in the subject of North-South-divide. The fact that "Crossing" is brave in its depiction of life's cruelties deserves some words of praise, but that this is simply used to squeeze some tears out of the audience leaves a bitter aftertaste.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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