The Drop Box is a 77-minute documentary film that is having a very limited (2-3 day) run starting on Wednesday, March 4th in theaters in North America. At first, I wondered how I would fare with a documentary; don’t people go to the movies to be entertained? And then I was concerned how I would navigate the two-thirds of the film that are in Korean with English subtitles.
The story however is so compelling, so completely other than what you’re expecting, that you can’t help but be drawn in.
Lee Jong-rak, hereafter referred to as Pastor Lee, is the creator of South Korea’s only “baby box” for collecting unwanted infants, a role that was somewhat thrust upon him when an abandoned baby was left at the door of his church, something not uncommon in that culture. The box itself resembles one of the large depository boxes you might see at a bank. The pastor heard of a similar box in central Europe, but after getting no reply from that organization, gave up and built one from scratch.
The film begins with a child abandonment in process. In an interview with the filmmaker at Focus on the Family it is revealed that each such ‘drop’ sets off a door chime and as they run to the box, a camera is rolling. Some of the footage from various events is in the film. Often someone will also run outside to see if the mother is still nearby. In the case of the film opener, there is no note and the mother is gone, which means the child will go through life with no medical history, and if the baby is more than a few days old, no precise date of birth.
Hundreds of children have come to Pastor Lee in this way, and 15 of them have been formally adopted; he and his wife are their legal parents. There are concerns for the pastor’s health because of years of sleep deprivation caring for babies abandoned in the night, or crying in the facility.
While at least the first half hour of the film is somewhat all about babies, the script changes to look at one of the longer residents, one of the older of the adopted children. And then there is another story dynamic that is introduced closer to the end. All this to say that the film maintains a high level of intensity. As you try to catch the names and positions of people superimposed on the screen while at the same time keeping up with the subtitles, your viewing mirrors the relentless pace that Pastor Lee, his wife and the facility volunteers face every hour of every day. The film can leave you somewhat out of breath.
The filmmaker, Brian Ivie, shared with a Focus audience how his original motives were somewhat selfish. He read a newspaper story and figured Pastor Lee’s story was a vehicle that would help him accomplish a personal goal of getting into the Sundance Film Festival.
Instead, the film changed his life, and that of many of the crew of eleven he took with him to South Korea. His own story is told in a David C. Cook book releasing March 1st, The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever.
This is one of those stories that is meant to leave you challenged, and it does. Some people wholly define what it is to give their all to a cause, and Pastor Lee of South Korea is one of those people.