World

North Korean Defector Watches American Action Movies to Help with Recovery from Dramatic Escape

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A wounded defecting North Korean soldier lies next to a wall after he was shot by North Korean border guards in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, in this still image taken from a video released by the United Nations Command (UNC) on November 22, 2017. The defector escaped after being involved a person’s death, South Korean newspaper Dong-A reported Tuesday. United Nations Command/Handout/via Reuters

The North Korean soldier who defected to the South last week will survive his injuries and is already well enough to discuss music and films with his doctors.

“The patient is not going to die” said doctor Lee Guk-jong, an experienced surgeon well known in the country for successfully treating the captain of a South Korean ship who suffered six gunshot wounds in a pirate attack in 2011.

The North Korean soldier’s gunshot wounds were treated in two rounds of surgeries that revealed dozens of parasites in his stomach, but he was still suffering from pneumonia and hepatitis B. His mental health was also affected and he showed signs of depression, the doctor said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

The soldier found some solace in South Korean songs and American TV shows and movies. “We played him three versions of Girls' Generation's 'Gee' [one of the popular K-pop song that the South Korean soldiers stationed at the border play on loudspeakers] the original version, the rock version and the indie band version. He said he likes the original version the best and that he loves girl groups," Lee said, quoted in South Korean news agency Yonhap.

"We showed him a cable TV movie channel, and he said he likes the American drama 'CSI' and American films,” he added.

Lee said that the soldier will need at least a month before feeling well enough to be interrogated by South Korean authorities. He said the hospital staff have told him what life is like in South Korea, but they have not asked about his experiences in North Korea.

The soldier, whose name has not yet been released but is a 24-year-old man holding the rank of staff sergeant, has told doctors he used to drive a car after being shown “The Transporter” action movie.

The soldier’s driving skills were key to his defection across the demilitarized zone (DMZ)’s Joint Security Area (JSA), which has been described as “movie-like.”

11_22_Defector_Footage A surveillance TV footage containing the moment of defection of a North Korean Soldier, is seen during a press briefing by the United Nations Command at the Defence Ministry in Seoul on November 22, 2017. Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations Command released a video of the defection on Wednesday. The edited footage showed the soldier speeding through the JSA and past checkpoint controls with the intent of driving across the border, until the car appears to get stuck in a ditch just before the demarcation line.

The soldier can then be seen exiting the vehicle and dashing towards the border as he is chased by North Korean guards shooting in his direction, one of whom appears to briefly cross the demarcation line, in violation of the 1953 Korean War armistice.

The defector collapsed in a pile of leaves a few feet south of the border, where he was rescued and airlifted to the Ajou University Hospital for treatment.  

“From a medical point of view he was almost dead when he was first brought here,” doctor Lee said, quoted in Reuters. According to him, the defection was the soldier’s voluntary decision, although the specific reason remains unclear.

On average, more than 1,000 North Koreans have fled to the South every year since 1998, but the soldier is only the third person to defect through the heavily-guarded DMZ since the end of the Cold War and the first in a decade, with two previous attempts occurring in 1998 and 2007.