‘Beyond Utopia’ Review: Evil Pastor Smuggles North Koreans Free With Secret Sundance Doc

‘Beyond Utopia’ Review: Evil Pastor Smuggles North Koreans Free With Secret Sundance Doc

Sundance: The Madeleine Gavin documentary is often messy and unfocused, but the thrilling footage of a North Korean defector fleeing the country covers many sins.

No one who comes across Pastor Kim Seung-woon doubts that he is one of the world’s top secret geopolitical operatives. , with his big belly making him look like Kim Jong Il – he seems to have more in common with the silly dad in GEICO commercials than Jack Ryan. Don’t be fooled by looks. Pastor Kim is an outspoken badass. Over the past decade, he has helped more than 1,000 of his North Koreans flee to freedom. It’s a surprisingly impressive feat, and one that should make everyone who watches ‘Beyond His Utopia’ wonder what they’ve done with their lives. If you have a family trying to escape Kim Jong-un’s repressive regime, he’s the man you call.

Using a rolodex of brokers, mercenaries, corrupt cops and hideouts, he operates a pipeline that transports North Korean defectors to Thailand through harrowing journeys through China, Vietnam and Laos. ‘Beyond Utopia’ is Madeleine Gavin’s final addition to the Sundance lineup, and follows Kim as he takes on a harrowing challenge, even by his standards. That is to move the whole family out of North Korea, including preschool children and elderly grandmothers. without a single casualty. It is a feat of human ingenuity and perseverance that must be seen to be believed.

We all know what’s going on in North Korea, but people in the West often forget just how bad the country’s regime really is. knows, but the isolated nature of the country generally keeps it out of the news unless there are rumors of missile launches. Russia’s gratuitous aggression in Ukraine has made it impossible to ignore Vladimir Putin’s guilt, and American corporations have been extremely vulnerable in China. With so much business going on, it’s inevitable that we’ll hear more about the CCP’s massacre of Uyghurs than about Kim Jong-un’s atrocities.

But for those who need to brush up on the evil going on in North Korea, “Beyond Utopia” can refresh you in minutes. Citizens are forced to live in unimaginable levels of poverty, many surviving on the equivalent of $2 a month, allowing them to invest all of the country’s resources in its military. Its military will go to great lengths to keep Kim Jong-un in power, and is particularly targeted at those seeking to flee the country. Police and military personnel are encouraged to show no mercy toward those seeking a better life, and the defectors they kill are given extra leave.

That makes Pastor Kim’s job particularly difficult, but he’s managed to find enough cracks in the system to offer his clients a glimmer of hope. We work with a network of North Korean brokers who connect us to the outside world. Only a few areas have cell phone service, and if someone finds a way to make a call, they are usually monitored. There he guides the family through an elaborate communication process that involves using an illegal cell phone to send screenshots of handwritten letters through the broker’s web. Exchanges worth a few texts his messages can take months, but people will do whatever it takes to get their freedom.

Once you are in touch, start planning your trip. South Korea is a desirable destination for most North Korean defectors, but it is impossible to cross the landmine-filled demilitarized zone. Therefore, North Korean defectors must first arrive in Thailand, and to do so they must go through China, Vietnam and Laos, all of which have repatriation agreements with North Korea. Sometimes that is the best-case scenario as they are often sold to sex slaves or organ harvesters along the way. Pastor Kim is very clear about the risks involved in traveling, but the Roh family jumps at the opportunity without hesitation.

Below is an unprecedented look inside one of the most dangerous journeys on earth. Using a fleet of vans, planes and boats, Kim smuggles her family from safehouse to safehouse, but has to tackle a particularly dangerous stretch on foot. I don’t think anyone has ever thought of that, and it’s even less likely that the footage will be this thrilling.

Still, “Beyond Utopia” often feels like a missed opportunity because its sloppy editing choices prevent the film from becoming the instant classic it probably should have been. Despite the fact that Pastor Kim’s escape mission is a real-life geopolitical thriller and may have been cut from a Tom Clancy novel, Gavin never allows her documentary to unfold that way. It doesn’t seem like it. There are a few moments when the film feels like it’s about to transcend the typical documentary formula and evolve into something bigger, but it quickly steps back to present general commentary on life in North Korea. The film never fully commits to being a pure North Korean escape documentary, and its weakest moment happens to be a film of general interest about North Korea featuring escape footage. I will visit you when you are about to

But there’s no reason to split your hair at some point. From an 80-year-old woman climbing a jungle-covered mountain in the middle of the night, with military dogs barking in the background. “Beyond Utopia” is fulfilled, from the mother who shows her daughter fruits and flowers for the first time and tears.in the kind of how did you get this Footage that the documentary medium exists to preserve. Movies like “Beyond Utopia” are the same with people like Pastor Kim. Their existence is a miracle and we should cherish every film we get.

Grade: B.

“Beyond Utopia” will premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. We are currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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