Movie Review: “Camp 14 – Total Control Zone”



“Our sole purpose was to follow the rules of the work camp and then die.  People on the outside call this place the Total Control Zone.” ~ Shin Dong-Hyuk

Documentaries are especially important in the case of North Korea because they provide important insights into what is commonly referred to as the “Hermit Kingdom”. These insights are invaluable when it comes to preparing for unification. With that in mind, I would like to present one of the best documentaries I have seen so far – Camp 14: Total Control Zone, directed by Marc Wiese.

Camp 14 is a joint South Korean/German production, also available in English that follows the life of Shin Dong-Hyuk who was born inside the Kaechon internment camp. It chronologically follows his dramatic life from birth to his accidental escape and current situation in South Korea. Furthermore, a former North Korean camp guard (Hyuk Kwon) and secret service police officer (Oh Yangnam) are also given a voice. Marc Wiese manages to interview each protagonist in such a way that they can all tell their story from their perspective. This very respectful way of dealing with each individual is perhaps the biggest strength of Camp 14, because unlike many other documentaries about North Korea, it refrains from being judgmental and knows that it’s dealing with real people. By remaining objective, it draws a very comprehensive picture of a North Korean internment camp without intentionally trying to assign blame.

Furthermore, Animation is partially used, based on Shin Dong-Hyuk’s memory, when there is no footage available. This rather unconventional way of presenting a documentary is however very fitting and aids the purpose. In addition, secret footage shot by Hyuk Kwon and Oh Yangnam is also presented. Overall, these different features of story telling contribute to a very balanced and genuine view of what life may be like in a North Korean internment camp.

The only thing that I have left to say is that Camp 14, put simply, is special. It is special because it doesn’t judge, it doesn’t point fingers and it doesn’t blame. It is what it is and doesn’t try to be more than that. As such, it is currently one of the best documentaries about North Korea and I highly recommend anyone to watch it.


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