on the border
  • About On the Border
  • About the Chosun Ilbo News Team

"On The Border" is a cross-platform reportage that sums up the human right situation of North Korean defectors. It took 10 months of filming undercover on the Chinese side of the river bordering North Korea. The film follows the long journey of those who make it to freedom and of some of those who don't.

Filming at night, often in sub-zero temperatures, the team risked arrest and punishment throughout the months spent filming North Korean refugees in China. They shared the risks to reveal the complexity of their journey while taking care not to put them in even greater danger.

The Chosun Ilbo organized the team in May 2007. It visited nine countries including China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Russia, Thailand, the U.K., and the U.S. to make a 15,000-mile journey. The method was simple: just do as they do. During the period, the news team were able to witness drug dealing by the North Korean Army and human trafficking of North Korean women, and follow the entire escape route through China and the North Korean district in Siberia.

The global cross-media project has drawn attention worldwide. Cross-Media is an integrated service which reports in text and image, through newspapers and TV. With the slogan "Newspaper in the morning, TV in the evening," the approach has a unique place in the Chosun Ilbo's news reporting.

"On The Border" was reported not only in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper but has been or will be shown by the world's leading networks including the BBC, The Time Warner Group, and TBS of Japan. We expect the film to be broadcast in more than 20 countries in the year 2009. Requests for more broadcast are coming in from prominent institutions including the U.S. Congress, the U.K. Parliament, Japan's Diet, the Heritage Foundation of the U.S., and many others. The reason for all that attention is that the film provides a unique first-hand look at a contemporary tragedy.

Click here to watch the BBC version, "Korea: Out of the North"

"On The Border" has received the 2008 Sony Impact Award from the Rory Peck Trust, the 2008 Grand Prix from the Camera Obscura Awards, a Special Recognition from the International Parliamentarians' Coalition for the North Korean Refugees' Human Rights, the 2008 Korea Journalists' Award, and many other prestigious prizes worldwide.

A 15,000-Mile Journey Across Nine Countries for 10 Months

The Chosun Ilbo News Team traveled to nine countries including China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Russia, Thailand, the U.K., and the U. S. over 10 months to gather materials on the human rights situation of N. Korean defectors, spanning 15,000 miles.

May 28, 2007, Tenjin, China: The team take the first step. Chinese public security follow the reporters from the airport. We are due to visit the border, and public security and border security take turns tailing us. Public security warn us, "Be careful, we have our eye on you!" We decide to go and live in a border town. After several months, the observation slackens. But in the meantime we are arrested by border security on suspicion of espionage. The same thing happens twice more. We throw the camcorders away and run away only with the tapes. Neighbors in the border town help us escape.

August 20, 2007, China-Laos Border: We pretend to be North Korean defectors. But the guide discovers us and refuses to take us along. "You put other people's lives in great danger." We begged him to let us stay. "We apologize for cheating you. We are reporters from South Korea. We want to see for ourselves the plight and hardship of our own people." He allows us to come with him. We cross the border the next day.
After sixteen hours of walking in the mountains, we drink yellow water from the Mekong River. We deliver taped film and equipment to a backup team in Laos to immediately go back to China. We are illegal migrants in China and have no Lao visa. Attacked by leeches, bleeding all over our body, we do not even have time for a break before returning. We cross the border illegally six times in all. Thomas O'Neill of National Geographic thinks we are crazy.

November 3, 2007, Murtukit, Russia: We go out to look for a North Korean timber camp in Russia. The guide stops us. "If a Korean goes in there, they will notice fast. Once caught, no release." We go into the timber camp, led by a Russian taxi driver. While shooting inside the camp, an officer points at us. We run.

November 21, 2007, Chinese Border Town: We capture the moment of human trafficking for the second time. Accustomed to living in the border town, we are not even tense. The guide tells us that a few days earlier a broker for the traffickers, during negotiations for the trade of a North Korean woman, stabbed a Chinese man at the border, killing him instantly.