‘Beyond Utopia’ Review: An Uneven but Gripping Doc About North Korean Defectors

  • Author: Daniel Fienberg
  • January 25,2023

An astonishing real-life geopolitical thriller with a very run-of-the-mill historical explainer grafted to it like a remora, Madeleine Gavin’s documentary Beyond Utopia is so packed with high-stakes tension and nail-biting set-pieces that it’s fairly easy, and probably even ideal, to ignore its clunky structuring and expositional choices.

Beyond Utopia is primarily a three-pronged story about the perils of defecting from modern North Korea, as well as the nightmarish realities that make defecting such a necessity.

Seoul-based Pastor Seungeun Kim has spent decades putting his own life in jeopardy to coordinate and facilitate defections. He has a network of ethically compromised brokers in North Korea, China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, but he’s more than just a guy moving strategic pieces from a distance. Motivated in part by personal trauma, Pastor Kim’s own participation in these escapes has left him with broken bones and a rap sheet in several countries.
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