James Joseph Dresnok, 65, who switched sides more than 40 years ago, says he now feels “at home” in the North, according to a documentary that premiered at a South Korean film festival on Monday.
Crossing the Line, directed by Daniel Gordon and narrated by Christian Slater, the US actor, held its world premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival in South Korea.
Its release comes as tensions between the US and North Korea mount over the communist state’s recent announcement of a nuclear test.
In the film, Dresnok explains that he decided to defect because he was fed up with army life and because he was facing punishment for falsifying a signature on his leave papers.
The documentary, however, says he and three fellow American defectors had tried to leave North Korea by seeking asylum at the then-Soviet Union’s embassy in Pyongyang but were turned down.
Feeling at home
After the failed escape, Dresnok said he worked hard to blend in and now has no regrets about moving to the communist country.
Fellow defector Jenkins now lives
“I really feel at home. I was just a regular soldier. I gave it up [and] came over. I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” Dresnok says.
However, the documentary also shows him welling up while viewing images of his hometown, Richmond, Virginia.
The film shows a cheerful Dresnok speaking fluent Korean, fishing with companions and visiting a clothes shop – as well as quoting the late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung.
The documentary says Dresnok suffers from heart disease and was hospitalised for a lengthy period in May.
‘Everything was finished’
Dresnok, Charles Jenkins, Jerry Wayne Parrish and Larry Allen Abshier allegedly defected to North Korea in 1963, while stationed at the Korean Demilitarised Zone that separates the two Koreas.
“I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life -everything else was finished and there was only one place to go”
James Joseph Dresnok,
Jenkins, who surrendered to US authorities and served a month in jail for desertion, now lives in Japan.
He testified in a military court in Tokyo in November 2004 that Parrish died of an abdominal infection in 1996 while in North Korean custody, and Abshier died of a heart attack in 1983.
That leaves Dresnok as the only known living American defector in North Korea.
Before he walked across the border, Dresnok said he forged a signature on leave papers, and his then-superior, Thomas Ryan, said in the documentary he was prepared to court martial Dresnok.
“What am I? Am I a slave? To hell with this. I was fed up with my childhood, my marriage, my military life. Everything else was finished. There was only one place to go,” Dresnok recalled himself as thinking.
Dresnok said he struggled living in North Korea after moving there and the documentary said he and his fellow American deserters tried to seek asylum at the Soviet Union’s embassy in Pyongyang in 1966, but were rejected.
“I might be a different race, I might be a different colour, but I will sit down and I’m going to learn their way of life”
James Joseph Dresnok,
“I was a little uncomfortable, a different race, a different colour, different customs, a different ideology,” he said.
“The uneasiness of the way people looked at me when I walked down the street, ‘Ah, there goes that American bastard.'”
The documentary shows the American deserters acting in a propaganda film in which they portray foreigners. They are also shown on the cover of North Korean magazines.
Dresnok said he taught English in North Korea and he is shown instructing students in the film.
Dresnok said his attitude was: “I might be a different race, I might be a different colour, but I will sit down and I’m going to learn their way of life.”