‘Slash Film: Beyond Utopia Review: A Jaw-Dropping Documentary About Escape From North Korea [Sundance]’

Slash Film

The main thrust of the movie is divided between two stories. One follows defector Soyeon Lee, who left her family behind so she could escape and has spent the last decade trying to smuggle her now 17-year-old son out so he can join her. Her arc, which features phone calls to sources over the border, wiring money to mysterious brokers who may or may not be yanking her chain, and urgent attempts to learn about her boy’s whereabouts, is a portrait of isolation, anxiety, and despair you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemy. The other tracks Pastor Kim, a Christian leader living in South Korea who has personally orchestrated the rescue of approximately 1,000 people since he himself defected ten years prior. He spends the film trying to help a desperate family of five (including an 80-year-old grandmother) make it to safety — because landmines prevent them from simply crossing directly into South Korea, they instead must all secretly travel across China, Laos, and Vietnam in order to reach Thailand, the nearest non-Communist nation that wouldn’t immediately return them to North Korea, where they would almost certainly be executed for treason if caught.

Gavin, who also serves as editor, weaves these stories together masterfully, and also provides a bit of a history lesson about how we got here, including a recap of the Korean War that Americans who went through the public school system will likely find refreshingly direct and clarifying. What she’s accomplished with this documentary is a huge accomplishment, and the footage she shows audiences, both from inside North Korea and of the family’s agonizing travels through dark jungles, is nothing short of extraordinary. A powerful and important look behind the curtain, “Beyond Utopia” is one hell of a cinematic nail-biter and a stark reminder of the human rights violations being committed every day in 2023.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

/Film – ‘Slash Film: Beyond Utopia Review: A Jaw-Dropping Documentary About Escape From North Korea [Sundance]’
Author: Ben Pearson
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January 25, 2023

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