Dragon is a human smuggler who leads North Korean defectors across borders for a living. His latest undercover trip with Sook-Ja and Yong-hee takes an unexpected turn when they are left stranded in China, putting their dramatic escape plan into question. Their perilous journey reflects the reality of tens of thousands of North Koreans currently in hiding in China. Filmed undercover by a Korean-Canadian filmmaker, Ann Shin gets intimate access with these three individuals in this POV film and explores universal questions about human rights, smuggling and the pursuit of freedom.


When I first heard about North Koreans fleeing their country I was immediately drawn to their stories. Their radical flight to freedom mirrored for me in some way, my own parents' departure from South Korea in the 1960s. During the Korean War (1950-53) my aunts and uncles in South Korea who had socialist ideals suffered greatly for being North Korean sympathizers. Property was confiscated, some were tortured, one uncle was killed. But the story of North Korean defectors today is one with much higher stakes-the highest really. They are risking their lives to find freedom. They are endangering the lives of their own families to seek freedom. I felt compelled to share their stories in some way.


Dragon served as a member of a special military corps in North Korea. Ironically his military training helped him escape in 2001 to China where he met other defectors in hiding. He tried to lead them out of China but got caught on his first attempt and was thrown into a prison for a year. He vowed he would get his friends out of China safely and was successful on his second attempt. Since then he's been guiding North Korean defectors for a fee. He claims to have led more than 500 defectors to freedom.

Sook-ja's older sister left to find work in China seven years ago. She was hoping to send money back to her family. Sook-ja tried to get in touch with her using an illegal cell phone, but she was caught by North Korean police and sent to prison. Her experience in prison convinced her she needed to escape. She crossed over the Tumen River into China and soon met up with Dragon and his escape group.

Yong-hee followed another woman into China with the promise of food and work. Little did she know she was going to be trafficked as a bride to a Chinese farmer. She lived in hiding in his farmhouse for eight years, terrified of getting caught by Chinese police. When she finally heard about Dragon she jumped at her chance for freedom.

Tae-sup Heo's first wife and daughter both died of famine-related diseases in North Korea. Having lost all his family, he decided to leave North Korea and ended up in China where he worked illegally in a coal mine. Constantly worried about a police raid, he enlisted Dragon's help and managed to get to Canada. Tae-sup is now part of a global network of defectors and aid workers who help North Koreans.


THE DEFECTOR: Escape from North Korea Interactive is a first-person POV interactive web documentary enabling audiences to experience first-hand what it's like to be a defector. Featuring true-to-life animations recreating the journey, along with real footage and darkly stunning imagery, it explores the bewildering array of decisions and risks defectors must face-and shows how much courage it takes to pursue freedom. Go deep inside North Korea and then try to escape.


Ann Shin is a multiple Gemini Award nominee and award-winning filmmaker. She's produced and directed programs and series for CBC, Discovery Channel, HGTV, History Channel, Network, PBS, and Fine Living Network. Her films have screened and won awards at festivals including: the San Francisco Film Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, Mumbai International Film Festival, New York Festivals, and the Chris Awards. Her programs have sold in territories in the US, Europe and East Asia and Southeast Asia. Her credits include Gemini nominated Four Seasons Mosaic (CBC), Chris Award-winning The Roswell Incident, Planet in Focus Film Festival winning Cow vs Clown and National Film Board Reel Diversity winner Western Eyes. Ann has also produced and directed a number of lifestyle shows for Canadian networks.

Stephen's career began in still photography in the late 80's where he worked primarily in the fashion and music industry. Clients included Flare, Shift, Elle Quebec, Sarah McLaughlin, and David Byrne. Since then Stephen has shoot hundreds of music videos and commercials but his focus has been on television, documentary and film. Some people and productions he has had the pleasure to shoot for are: Sook Yin lee, Alex Gibny, Broken Social Scene, Kevin McMahon, David Suzuki, National Parks Project, Susur Lee, Feist and many broadcasters including CBC, Discovery Channel US and Canada, 20th Century Fox and History Channel.

Manfred has directed, edited and written documentaries for television and the big screen over 25th years, with diverse topics like the life of terrorists, professional wrestlers, homelessness and psycho analysis. Manfred also teaches at York and Ryerson universities, where he is doing his PhD in Culture and Communication: www.manfredbecker.com

Fathom Film Group