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The Defector

Ann Shin 2012

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..

Running Time: 58 min.
Subject(s): Asian Studies, Conflicts, Current Affairs, Human Rights, Immigration and Migration, Personal Story, Politics, Society
Language(s): English, Korean
Subtitles: English
Producer(s): Ann Shin
Cinematographer: Stephen Chung
Editor(s): Chris Wiseman with Steve Guise
Production Company: Zarathustra Films Inc.


  • Freedom Fighter: Ann Shin
    “The resulting undercover film is a testament to the trust Shin and crew developed with those escaping and may be the first documentary in the world to gain such intimate access to actual human smugglers.”
    Christina Couch for Get In Media, 2014
  • Hot Docs: The Defector tracks a harrowing escape from North Korea
    "Shin said she hopes her film will help people understand more about North Korea while putting a human face on what defectors endure. Since Kim Jong-un’s appointment as leader, he has ordered even harsher crackdowns on escapees than his late father, Kim Jong-il. South Korean media reports in early 2012 said would-be defectors were being shot on sight by border guards."
    Linda Barnard for Toronto Star, April 2013
  • that exposes a part of the world that is often shielded...
    The Defector: Escape from North Korea is a well-made film that exposes a part of the world that is often shielded so heavily we can only know through conjecture. It is exactly the kind of thing that is missing from contemporary journalism, and for filling that void, director Shin should be commended.
    Doug Heller in Next Projection
  • ...effective and engaging piece of embedded journalism
    In crafting such an effective and engaging piece of embedded journalism, she has helped to expose not only the lives of those seeking a second chance but the market that exists in pushing those unfortunate souls in the right direction.
    Kevin Scott in Exclaim!

Festival Participation

  • International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) - 2012
  • Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival - 2013
  • Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival - 2013
  • Hot Docs - 2013
  • Sausalito Film Festival - 2013
  • Sheffield Doc Fest - 2013
  • Adelaide International Film Festival - 2013
  • Montreal Festival du Nouveau Cinema - 2013
  • Ottawa One World Festival - 2013
  • Canadian Screen Awards - 2014
    Best Documentary Program, Best Direction in a Documentary Program, Academy’s Diversity Award

Distribution Company

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