A universal lament for the world’s displaced

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A universal lament for the world’s displaced


Jun-i (Shin Myung-cheol) and his dad Yongsoo

When one sits down to watch a movie like “Crossing” - the story of a man who leaves North Korea to help his wife but never makes it back, and of his young son’s long journey to find him - despite all the suffering and horror, one naturally expects everything to work out.

But in Crossing, almost nothing does.

Kim Yong-soo (Cha In-pyo) is a once-famous North Korean football player who now works in a coal mine in South Hamgyong Province. He lives in a small earthen house with his wife and son, Jun-i (Shin Myung-cheol).

Yong-soo and Jun-i lead difficult but happy lives, playing football together and marveling at the technological wonders their family friends have smuggled in from China. (Jun-i is awestruck when his friend, who has a slight crush on him, shows him an automatic pencil sharpener.)

But Yong-soo’s wife is stricken with tuberculosis due to malnutrition, and because she is also pregnant, she requires special medication that is unavailable in North Korea. With his smuggler friend sent to a labor camp, Yong-soo is forced to cross the Tumen River into China to find the pills his wife needs.

Eventually Yong-soo finds a job, but when Chinese security forces start clamping down on the border, his boss tricks him into fleeing for South Korea. There he is ostracized even among the refugees for “abandoning” his family.

Meanwhile, Jun-i sets off after his father on a long and painful journey.

Crossing is full of the sort of terrible scenes that are literally unimaginable - they could only come from real life. Jun-i learns to sleep with his shoes on to keep them from being stolen. In a gulag he chases a mouse into a room full of rotting corpses. And Yong-soo, after reading the Bible, wonders aloud why “God only lives in South Korea.”

For Jun-i and Yong-soo, life is a series of painful separations they are helpless to stop. And for Yong-soo, life in South Korea, far from being liberating, is a forced exile.

Director Kim Tae-gyun keeps this story strictly personal and doesn’t add political subtext. That’s wise, because it makes Crossing a universal lament for refugees. Perhaps this film will inspire us to take action to help the millions of displaced people around the globe who have been ripped from their homes, friends and families.


Drama / Korean with English subtitles

112 min.

Now available

By Ben Applegate [bapplegate@gmail.com]
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